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UK's new Brexit bill is 'legal safety net', PM Johnson says

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020.   -   Copyright  Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo
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Britain will press ahead with a controversial Brexit bill that ministers admitted would "break international law", Boris Johnson has confirmed.

The UK prime minister said in the House of Commons that he would seek to change the agreement on Northern Ireland that he struck with the European Union in October 2019.

He also claimed that the new law would protect the Good Friday Agreement, the peace deal agreed between factions in Northern Ireland in 1998.

"This UK internal market bill is about protecting jobs, protecting growth, ensuring the fluidity and safety of our UK internal market and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom," Johnson said on Wednesday.

"My job is to uphold the integrity of the UK but also to protect the Northern Irish peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, and 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."

The bill has been criticised since Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, admitted earlier this week that it "does break international law in a very specific and limited way".

Former Prime Minister Theresa May was among those urging Johnson to consider the impact on the UK's reputation, saying it could mean Britain would not be trusted in the future to stand by international agreements.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that she was "very concerned", tweeting that the move would "break international law and undermines trust".

The regional government in Scotland has also hinted it could mount a legal challenge, calling the proposals a "naked power grab".

MPs will debate the bill in parliament on Thursday.

Johnson also spoke during Wednesday's question-and-answer session on COVID-19 testing and new social restrictions being issued in England from Monday that limited social gatherings to six people.

The UK prime minister is set to give a separate coronavirus update later in the afternoon after cases rose significantly in the country over the last week.