The writer is an FT contributing editor
The House of Commons has voted, in principle, for UK ministers to have the discretion to breach international obligations.
This is a surreal constitutional moment, even if the proposal is not yet law, and may not become law. A government is proposing to act unlawfully, and a legislature is endorsing the proposal. A more fundamental deliberate subversion of the rule of law is difficult to imagine. It is almost as if a fanciful question in a law examination has jumped from the page and is rampaging in real life.
That the vote was at an early stage of the legislative process does not make the situation less absurd. The proposals may well be dropped or defeated later; the power to issue lawbreaking regulations may never be exercised; or a court may one day limit the effects of or even quash such regulations. None of that matters, for this is a significant moment and cannot be reversed.
The draft legislation in question is the internal market bill. This contains three express provisions that would enable ministers to issue binding legal instruments, even if they are in breach of applicable laws. These clauses are, in effect, licences to break international law.
The obligations that the government wants to be free to breach are those contained…