You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Brexit latest: Attorney General's verdict delivers blow for Theresa May as he admits UK could still be trapped in EU rules by backstop

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 12/03/2019 JOE MURPHY, NIcholas Cecil
Geoffrey Cox holding a sign © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Theresa May’s Brexit deal suffered a major blow today when her own Attorney General issued legal advice admitting that Britain could still be locked forever into EU rules through the Irish backstop.

The bombshell from the Government’s top lawyer Geoffrey Cox came just eight hours before MPs were due to stage the make-or-break Commons vote.

LIVE: May's Brexit deal 'in tatters'

He concluded the “legal risk remains unchanged” that unless the UK could prove the EU was acting in bad faith in future, there was “no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement.”

___________________

More on this story: 

Cox tweets 'b*****ks' to Brexit speculation (Evening Standard)

'It's this deal, or Brexit may not happen', EU says (Guardian)

Irish PM: Backstop has not been rewritten (Independent)

_________________

His advice was a blow to Mrs May who secured three documents last night she hoped would be accepted by MPs as legally binding changes to protect the UK from being trapped indefinitely.

Mr Cox said in a letter setting out his opinion that tthe risk was reduced by ended by saying: “The legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the UK would have, at least while the fundamentally circumstances remain the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement.”

Mr Cox’s advice was a blow to Mrs May who secured three documents last night that she hoped would be accepted by MPs as legally binding changes to protect the UK from being trapped indefinitely. Theresa May looking at the camera: Theresa May leaves Downing Street on Tuesday (AP) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Theresa May leaves Downing Street on Tuesday (AP)

Mr Cox said in a letter setting out his opinion that the risk was reduced but ended by saying: “The legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the UK would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement.”

Brexit in-depth: All the latest news, analysis and expert opinion

Earlier three top barristers said the 11th-hour changes “do not come close” to defusing the Irish border backstop row. “It is crystal clear that the measures do not alter the fundamental legal effect of the backstop, as previously and correctly explained by the Attorney General,” stated the three lawyers, who include the Government’s former counter-terrorism adviser Lord Anderson, a leading expert in European and international law.

a close up of a logo: A section of the legal advice published by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (Sky News) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited A section of the legal advice published by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (Sky News) “The backstop will endure indefinitely, unless and until superseded by another agreement, save in the extreme and unlikely event that in future negotiations the EU acts in bad faith in rejecting the UK’s demands.” The barristers worked through the night after Mrs May flew to Strasbourg yesterday night for a last-minute summit with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The Prime Minister flew home with two new documents that will sit alongside the withdrawal agreement that she shook hands on in November, plus a third setting out the UK’s own understanding of how the rules could work to prevent Britain being trapped indefinitely in the backstop.

Mr Cox briefed the full Cabinet on his legal advice which he was planning to set out to MPs in a written letter.

a man in a suit standing in front of a fence: image © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited image Lord Anderson and his colleagues Jason Coppel QC and Sean Aughey, whose advice was commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, went on: “The backstop will endure indefinitely, unless and until superseded by another agreement, save in the extreme and unlikely event that in future negotiations the EU acts in bad faith in rejecting the UK’s demands.”

Mrs May’s documents allow the UK to ask an arbitration panel to cancel the backstop if the EU behaves in bad faith and tries deliberately to trap the UK in its terms.

The Prime Minister needs to persuade 116 MPs to change their mind to reverse the record-breaking defeat by 230 votes for her deal in January.

Watch: May says UK has secured 'legal changes' (Independent)

What to watch next
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, a pro-EU campaigner, said: “I have had the chance to look at the document produced last night and I’m quite clear in my mind it does not allow the UK to terminate the backstop in the event of as breakdown in negotiation; it does not allow the UK to terminate the backstop at a time of its own choosing. The advice issued today from Lord Anderson, Jason Coppel and Sean Aughey reinforces my view.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Brexiteer MPs, said he was reserving judgment until his group’s own “Star Chamber” of lawyers reported on the new deal this afternoon.

“I’m not sure that the agreements with the EU are a major change, that they continue to be promises of goodwill, and we have heard what the Irish have to say,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “So my focus will be on whether the unilateral declaration is genuinely unilateral.”

Watch: Gove compares May to Manchester United (Evening Standard)

UP NEXT
UP NEXT

The decision of Mrs May’s Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party allies was seen as crucial to swinging many Conservative waverers.

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson did not sound impressed in an early interview on LBC radio. “I’ve got to say that what the PM has said so far, it seems to fall short of what she herself has promised. But we want to give due diligence to what has been said. We will also be listening to what the Attorney General has to say.”

Tory MP Damian Collins, who chairs the Culture select committee, said he would vote against the Government today. “Nothing has really changed since last November. We have the power to apply to an arbitration panel to leave the back stop, but not the right to leave by ourselves.”

Gallery: Facts to know about Brexit (Photos)

Former Tory minister Nick Boles, who is pushing for a softer Brexit, warned Brexiteers that if they blocked Mrs May’s deal they would end up with a soft Brexit or no Brexit at all. “I hope they won’t mind some frank advice ... Do yourselves a favour. Take the win. Vote for the deal,” he tweeted.

“We will then do whatever it takes to frustrate you. We will vote to stop no-deal Brexit on 29th March. We will vote to extend Article 50 for a few months. And we will then work with opposition parties to build a majority for a softer Brexit deal.” Several ERG members signalled they were ready to back Mrs May, despite serious reservations, because of fears of losing Brexit.

Mrs May is hoping a number of Labour MPs representing Leave areas are ready to back her plan. But Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer said the party would oppose it: “Having studied the documents, I would be surprised if they are sufficient to enable the Attorney General to change the central plank of his December legal advice.”

Mr Cox, who is noted for his showmanship, tweeted “b*****ks” this morning after newscaster Jon Snow claimed the Attorney General did not believe the 11th hour deal was legally valid.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Evening Standard

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon