Senior Tory MPs have echoed calls by a succession of legal experts urging the UK government to abandon reported plans to override parts of the original Brexit divorce deal concluded in 2019 with the European Union, writes The Guardian.
MPs, including the Conservative chairs of three select committees, have urged Downing Street to reconsider risking a breach of international law by going ahead with the proposed move.
The latter was reportedly touted by Downing Street as a means of "clarifying" grey areas of the Withdrawal Agreement to protect the interests of Northern Ireland as a "safety net" in a no-deal scenario.
Concerns have been raised, however, that the suggested “update” might contradict the Northern Ireland Protocol, established to prevent a hard border between the UK-controlled part of the island and the independent Republic of Ireland.
Bob Neill, the chair of the Justice Select Committee, was quoted as saying:
“Any breach, or potential breach, of the international legal obligations we have entered into is unacceptable, regardless of whether it’s in a ‘specific’ or ‘limited way’. Adherence to the rule of law is not negotiable.”
Tom Tugendhat, foreign affairs chair, said:
“Our entire economy is based on the perception that people have of the UK’s adherence to the rule of law. I hope it’s clear where I stand on that.”
His stance on the matter was supported by Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the defence committee.
The Welsh government’s minister for European transition, Jeremy Miles, slammed the suggested changes to the bill as an “attack on democracy” and a plan to “sacrifice the future of the union by stealing powers from devolved administrations”.
George Freeman, the former minister of state at the Department for Transport, said the Supreme Court would be “preparing to remind ministers that intentionally breaking the law – even in a very specific and limited way – is, well, unlawful.”
Lord Falconer, the shadow attorney general, said the positions of Braverman and Buckland, as members of a government that has admitted it intended to break the law but who had taken an oath to uphold the rule of law, should now be called into question.
Legal experts have similarly urged Boris Johnson not to go through with the proposed plans.
Dinah Rose, barrister and president of Magdalen College, Oxford, made a reference to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, saying:
“If a barrister advises a client that a particular act would be unlawful, but the client insists on doing it anyway, the barrister may not continue to represent that client. The barrister is professionally embarrassed and should resign. I’m sure Robert Buckland knows this.”
‘Breach’ of International Law
Earlier, Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, made the admission on Tuesday that a reinterpretation of the Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland included in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement – the UK Internal Market Bill - would be in breach of international law.
Lewis told Parliament:
“Yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way. We’re taking the powers of this to apply the EU law concept of direct effect … in a certain, very tightly defined circumstance.”
The admission set of a flurry of response from lawmakers, including former prime minister Theresa May, who warned that the UK risked damaging its international reputation if it acted illegally.
The Labour Party slammed the admission as “absolutely astonishing”, while senior Tory MPs said “adherence to the rule of law is not negotiable”.
His words came in the wake of the resignation of Sir Jonathan Jones, Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Profession, reportedly over Johnson's intention to depart from parts of the Brexit deal struck with Brussels which relate to the Northern Ireland border protocol.
The exit of Jonathan Jones was reportedly driven by exasperation that ministers showed disinclination to follow his advice that any changes to the new internal market bill would likely be illegal.
According to the outlet, the government also sought independent legal advice from a leading barrister, whose advice fell in with that of Jones, yet failed sway Downing Street in its resolve to go through with the changes.
The European Union weighed in on the reports, with one EU diplomat suggesting the minister’s admission his country was poised to “break international law” could have immediate impact on the crunch round of talks in London between UK chief negotiator David Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier.
“If true, it would be a massive blow to the UK’s international reputation and have huge negative consequences on the current talks with the EU”, said the source.
Michel Barnier, Brussels’chief Brexit negotiator, arrived in London on Tuesday morning for another round of talks on future trade and relations between the UK and the EU, after little headway was made during previous negotiations over the more contentious issues.