A TORY minister has admitted the UK Government will break international law if it follows through with its plan to renege on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis justified the move by stressing it would be in a "very specific and limited way", claiming there are "clear precedents" for the UK and other countries which need to consider their international obligations as circumstances change.

His Labour counterpart Louise Haigh described the admission as "absolutely astonishing" and warned it would "seriously undermine" the UK's authority on the international stage.

The UK Government will introduce the Internal Market Bill tomorrow. It is designed to ensure goods from Northern Ireland continue to have unfettered access to the UK market while making clear EU state aid rules – which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland – will not apply in the rest of the UK.

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However, key parts of the Withdrawal Agreement, which sealed the UK's departure from the EU in January, will be overridden by the legislation.

Lewis told MPs the Government is "fully committed" to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol.

But he added the UK is taking "limited and reasonable steps to create a safety net" to allow it to deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland and keep in line with the protocol should outstanding issues not be resolved in talks with the EU.

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Conservative Sir Bob Neill, chairman of the Justice Select Committee, asked Lewis: "The Secretary of State has said that he is committed and the Government are committed to the rule of law. Does he recognise that adherence to the rule of law is not negotiable?

"Against that background, will he assure us that nothing that is proposed in this legislation does or potentially might breach international legal obligations or international legal arrangements that we have entered into?"

The Northern Ireland Secretary replied: "I would say to [Neill] that yes this breaks international law in a very specific and limited way.

"We are taking the power to dis-apply the EU concept of direct effect required by Article 4 in a certain, very tightly-defined circumstances."

He added that "there are clear precedents for the UK and indeed other countries needing to consider their international obligations as circumstances change".

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Reacting after the Commons debate on Twitter, Neil wrote: "Well, it was a straight answer to a straight question. But a very troubling one nonetheless. Even as a 'contingency', a willingness to break international law sits ill for a county that has always prided itself on upholding the rule of law."

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long added: "The Secretary of State for NI has just conceded in Parliament that Govt are about to break international law. His defence seems to be that 'it's only in a very limited way'.

"I'm not sure you can be a little bit illegal. It's a bit like being a little bit pregnant."

SNP MP Stewart Hosie, commenting on a clip of Lewis's statement in Parliament, wrote: "As each day passes the less the UK looks like a functioning liberal democracy."