Lord Keen, legal adviser to the government, resigns over Brexit bill

Scotland’s top government lawyer has resigned, Downing Street said, amid reports he was unhappy with plans to override the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Lord Keen of Elie QC, the Advocate General, tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister on Wednesday morning.

He was reportedly deeply unhappy after ministers admitted that the UK’s internal market provisions would violate international law.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Lord Keen has resigned his post of Advocate General for Scotland. The Prime Minister thanks him for his service.

Boris Johnson testifies before the Commons Liaison Committee
Boris Johnson testifies before the Commons Liaison Committee (House of Commons / PA)

During his testimony before the Commons Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister said, “As far as I know, conversations on this issue are continuing.”

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, reports say No. 10 struck a deal with Tory rebels threatening to try to change legislation in the House of Commons next week.

Lord Keen’s resignation 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”.

However, during his testimony to the Northern Ireland Commons committee on Wednesday, Mr Lewis said he was standing by his initial response – which was “absolutely in line” with the legal opinion issued by Attorney General Suella Braverman.

“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”.

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