UK's Brexit hardliners agree to vote for EU trade deal

FILE PHOTO: An illuminated British flag is seen at 10 Downing Street on Brexit day in London, Britain January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - A group of staunchly pro-Brexit lawmakers from Prime Minster Boris Johnson’s Conservatives will back his UK-EU trade deal in parliament on Wednesday after they decided the agreement preserved the UK’s sovereignty.

The European Research Group, which sees threats to British sovereignty from close ties to the European Union, said it was satisfied with the deal which Johnson reached on Dec. 24 with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“Our overall conclusion is that the agreement preserves the UK’s sovereignty as a matter of law and fully respects the norms of international sovereign-to-sovereign treaties,” the group’s legal advisory committee said.

“The ‘level playing field’ clauses go further than in comparable trade agreements, but their impact on the practical exercise of sovereignty is likely to be limited if addressed by a robust government.”

It added that the level playing field did not prevent Britain from changing its laws as it saw fit, at a risk of tariff countermeasures. If those were unacceptable the agreement could be terminated with 12 months’ notice.

British lawmakers will on vote on the deal on Wednesday, less than 48 hours before transition arrangements between Britain and the EU expire.

The opposition Labour Party has said it will back the deal, making it almost certain to pass into law regardless of the support of Conservative lawmakers from the ERG.

The ERG was long a thorn in the side of Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and - aided by a Labour Party focused on overturning her minority government - had blocked efforts to preserve closer economic ties with the EU.

Reporting by Paul Sandle, editing by David Milliken