Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox has admitted that the United Kingdom will not be allowed to terminate Theresa May’s “worst deal in history” with the European Union unilaterally but is refusing to release his full legal advice on the deal.
The House of Commons commanded the Government to release the Attorney-General’s full advice on the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement with the EU — with MPs particularly concerned about the so-called “backstop” which will come into force if a future relationship with the bloc is not concluded during a “transition” period in which negotiations will continue — via a humble address, but he has refused to do so.
Mr Cox has instead produced a very lengthy “position paper” on the deal, and submitted to questions in the Commons chamber, claiming that releasing the full advice could be against “the public interest”.
Members are unsatisfied, however, and the Labour Party, Green Party, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and even the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on whom Theresa May’s minority government relies for a parliamentary majority are moving to find the Government and the Attorney-General himself in contempt of Parliament.
A letter has been sent to the Speaker John Bercow calling for him to give precedence to a motion saying the govt has held parliament in contempt for not providing full legal #brexit advice – @Keir_Starmer for @UKLabour, plus SNP, PC, Greens – and @NigelDoddsDUP have signed up
— iain watson (@iainjwatson) December 3, 2018
Critics of the prime minster’s deal believe the advice contains highly damaging information which shows it leaves the United Kingdom is the grip of European Union power, contradicting Mrs May’s claim that it “takes back control”. DUP Westminster leader Sammy Wilson has even claimed the full document would prove the Prime Minister has been lying to the country about her Brexit plan, reports the Belfast Telegraph.
Even the “position paper” hints at a very significant curtailment of Britain’s freedom of action once the withdrawal agreement is in force, in particular with respect to the country’s ability to get out of the backstop — which submits the British province of Northern Ireland to EU obligations over and above those imposed on the rest of the United Kingdom, creating a regulatory border of sorts between Ulster and Great Britain.
The key paragraph. The Irish backstop "will continue to apply unless and until it is superseded, in whole or in part, by a subsequent agreement establishing alternative arrangements". ie, it is indefinite. pic.twitter.com/5bHfAfBFpA
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) December 3, 2018
“The agreement does not contain any provision on its termination,” the document concedes.
“In the absence of such a provision, it is not possible under international law for a party to withdraw from the agreement unilaterally.”
Here's what they're not telling you.
Govt's legal 'position paper' states that 'good faith' clause enabling UK to leave backstop is 'common feature of international agreements' & recognised by ECJ.
BUT secret legal advice says EU is under *no legal obligation* to follow it
— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) December 3, 2018
“I have seen the [legal advice] … I think the advice is clear; we are in the backstop indefinitely until we agree with the EU the future relationship which means they have a veto,” commented Dominic Raab, the second Secretary of State for Brexit to resign from Theresa May’s government, believing the former Remain campaigner’s deal does not really make Britain independent of the EU.
"It's a trap!" – MP heckles Cox as he concedes that the UK would have "no unilateral right" to escape the backstop. pic.twitter.com/n8delJxO62
— Mark Wallace (@wallaceme) December 3, 2018
The Attorney-General claims the backstop imposes painful obligations on the EU as well as the United Kingdom, that it gives the United Kingdom the greater leverage in the transition negotiations, and that he believes the EU will be keen to ensure it is not activated — although this seems highly questionable, given it is the EU which insisted on the backstop, and on the lack of a unilateral break clause within it.
AG's legal advice: The ECJ will rule during the transition period if the UK or EU is negotiating in good faith. pic.twitter.com/IAqfnuVzdK
— Owen Bennett (@owenjbennett) December 3, 2018