Lord Howard today became the third former leader of the Conservative Party to criticise Boris Johnson over his plans to tear up parts of the Brexit divorce deal.
The peer said the UK will no longer be able to criticise Russia, China or Iran for flouting international rules if the Government shows such ‘scant regard’ for the treaties it signs up to.
Theresa May and Sir John Major have already savaged Mr Johnson over his decision to override the accord struck between Britain and Brussels at the end of last year.
Lord Howard’s intervention came as Michael Gove held crisis talks with the European Union because of the PM’s plans to change elements of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The Cabinet minister is meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in London amid rumblings from Brussels that it will try to impose massive fines if Mr Johnson does try to row back on previous commitments.
Arriving at St Pancras station this morning, Mr Sefcovic said he intended to set out the bloc’s ‘serious concerns’ to Mr Gove, telling reporters: ‘I called for an extraordinary meeting of the joint committee which is going to take place in a couple of hours.
‘I came here to express the serious concerns that the European Union has over the proposed Bill. So that will be the nature of our discussions today.’
Asked if he has lost trust in the UK Government, he said: ‘Let’s hear what Michael Gove will tell me this afternoon.’
The showdown comes after the Government published its UK Internal Market Bill which ministers have admitted will break international law but insist is necessary to protect the Northern Ireland peace process.
Meanwhile, Michel Barnier and his British counterpart Lord Frost are wrapping up the latest round of trade negotiations this afternoon, with gloom growing about the prospects of a breakthrough on the key issues of fishing rights and obeying EU rules.
Officials from the bloc have been briefing that they believe the UK is deliberately trying to blow up the process, and has already decided there will not be a deal.
Separately, Nancy Pelosi, the US Speaker of the House, underlined the high stakes as she delivered a stark warning there will be no Transatlantic trade deal unless Mr Johnson honours the Brexit divorce terms on Northern Ireland.
The European Commission’s Marco Sefcovic arrived in London this morning for emergency talks with Michael Gove
Michael Gove (left yesterday) will meet commission vice-president Mr Sefcovic in London amid warnings from Brussels that it could try to impose massive fines if the UK goes ahead with plans to override elements of the Withdrawal Agreement. Mr Johnson (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) has said his first responsibility is to protect the Peace Process
Michel Barnier, pictured in London this morning, will today conclude the latest round of Brexit trade talks with British counterpart Lord Frost but the chances of a breakthrough appear slim
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was ‘very concerned’ following the tabling in Parliament of the UK Internal Market Bill
A furious Lord Howard, who served as Tory leader from 2003 to 2005, told a Government minister in the upper chamber: ‘Does my noble and learned friend simply not understand the damage done to our reputation for probity and respect for the rule of law by those five words uttered by his ministerial colleague in another place on Tuesday?
‘Words which I never thought I would hear uttered by a British minister, far less a Conservative minister.
‘How can we reproach Russia or China or Iran when their conduct falls below internationally accepted standards when we are showing such scant regard for treaty obligations.’
Sir John yesterday warned the UK’s global reputation as a trustworthy nation is at stake.
He said: ‘For generations, Britain’s word – solemnly given – has been accepted by friend and foe. Our signature on any treaty or agreement has been sacrosanct.
‘Over the last century, as our military strength has dwindled, our word has retained its power. If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained.’
Mrs May had earlier said: ‘The United Kingdom Government signed the Withdrawal Agreement with the Northern Ireland protocol. This Parliament voted that Withdrawal Agreement into UK legislation. The Government is now changing the operation of that agreement.
‘Given that, how can the Government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?’
Mr Sefcovic demanded an ‘extraordinary meeting’ of the Joint Committee between the UK and EU in order to seek answers in person about Mr Johnson’s controversial Brexit plans.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was ‘very concerned’ following the tabling in Parliament of the UK Internal Market Bill.
She said such actions would ‘undermine trust’ and called on the Prime Minister to honour his past commitments.
The European Commission’s chief spokesperson Eric Mamer tweeted last night to confirm today’s meeting, saying: ‘The EU seeks clarifications from the UK on the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.’
The Internal Market Bill, published yesterday, would see the UK unilaterally decide details relating to the divorce deal.
But Brussels is adamant the details, which include customs arrangements between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, must be settled by the joint committee.
US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (pictured in Washington this week), warned there will be no Transatlantic trade deal if the NI agreement is not honoured
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis sparked outrage earlier this week by bluntly admitting that the measures proposed by Mr Johnson will breach international law.
And Downing Street claimed yesterday that the Withdrawal Agreement was ‘not like any other treaty’ because it was sealed ‘at pace in the most challenging possible political circumstances’.
Mr Johnson said at PMQs that his first responsibility was to protect the Peace Process.
‘My job is to uphold the integrity of the UK but also to protect the Northern Irish peace process and the Good Friday Agreement,’ the PM said.
‘To do that we need a legal safety net to protect our country against extreme or irrational interpretations of the protocol, which could lead to a border down the Irish Sea in a way that I believe – and I think members around the House believe – would be prejudicial to the interests of the Good Friday Agreement and prejudicial to the interests of peace in our country. That has to be our priority.’
However, the PM’s approach has spooked some US politicians who have warned there will be no chance of a trans-Atlantic trade deal if the UK does anything to undermine the Northern Ireland peace process.
Ms Pelosi last night became the most senior figure to express concerns as she said there was ‘absolutely no chance’ of Congress passing an American trade deal with the UK if the Good Friday Agreement was ‘imperilled’.
In a statement Ms Pelosi said: ‘The Good Friday Agreement is the bedrock of peace in Northern Ireland and an inspiration for the whole world.
‘Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the stability brought by the invisible and frictionless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
The Internal Market Bill, published yesterday, would unilaterally decide details that Brussels insists must be settled by the joint committee, including customs arrangements between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland
‘The UK must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border.
‘If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.
‘The Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be proudly defended in the United States Congress.’
Mr Johnson’s decision to override parts of the divorce accord has prompted a Tory backlash.