Government lawyer resigns over Brexit bill

Boris Johnson’s plans to override the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement suffered another setback after Scotland’s top government lawyer resigned.

Lord Keen of Elie QC, the Advocate General, was reportedly deeply unhappy after ministers admitted that the UK’s internal market provisions would violate international law.

He told the Press and the Journal: “I tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister this morning, I have not yet had a response from the Prime Minister.”

There was no immediate word in Downing Street on whether Lord Keen’s resignation had been accepted, amid reports that efforts were being made to persuade him to stay.

Boris Johnson said the internal market bill provided a “legal safety net” (Stefan Rousseau / PA)

The government has already seen the departure of the head of the government’s legal department, Sir Jonathan Jones, who resigned last week when the bill was announced.

Lord Keen’s decision to offer his resignation could heighten concerns among top Tories dismayed that the UK could renege on its international treaty obligations.

However, the move came amid reports that No.10 had struck a deal with Tory rebels threatening to try to change legislation in the House of Commons next week.

Lord Keen’s offer to resign came after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis appeared to directly contradict his comments in the House of Lords.

Lord Keen told his peers on Tuesday that the bill “does not violate international law or the rule of law”.

He said Mr Lewis had “answered the wrong question” when he said proposals to override elements of the Brexit divorce deal over Northern Ireland would violate international law of a “specific and limited way”.

Brandon Lewis said he was correct that the bill violated international law (Brian Lawless / PA)

“I gave a very direct response to Parliament last week, in accordance with the position of the Attorney General,” he said.

“I spoke to Lord Keen. He looked at the specific question I was asked last week. He agreed with me that the answer I gave was correct to the question given to me.

The BBC reported that Mr Johnson had reached a deal with Tory rebels backing an amendment tabled by Commons Justice Committee chairman Sir Bob Neill.

About 30 Tory MPs were thought to be preparing to vote in favor of the amendment on Tuesday, which would have required a Commons vote before the bill’s Northern Ireland provisions could come into force.

The ministers hoped to be able to defuse the revolt by agreeing to provide an “additional level of parliamentary control”.

Former European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that the UK could not unilaterally cancel the Withdrawal Agreement which settled the terms of her “divorce”.

In her annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament, Ms von der Leyen said both sides agreed this was the only way to secure the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson insisted the bill is intended to provide a legal ‘safety net’ to protect the peace process and ensure that the EU cannot impose tariffs on goods shipped to the EU. Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Addressing Parliament in Brussels, Ms von der Leyen said: “This Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate and we have worked tirelessly on it line by line, word by word, and together we have succeeded.

“The European Union and the United Kingdom have jointly agreed that this is the best and the only way to ensure peace on the island of Ireland and we will never go back to that.

“This agreement has been ratified by this House and the House of Commons. It cannot be modified, ignored or deleted unilaterally.

“It is a matter of law, of trust and of good faith.”

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