‘I MAKE no bones about it I would have preferred to have seen a unilateral right of termination in this backstop,’ Tory Attorney General Geoffrey Cox admitted, answering questions in the House of Commons yesterday on the legality of May’s Brexit deal. In this he admited that the deal means that the UK can remain in the Single Market and Customs Union indefinitely.
He said: ‘I would have preferred to have seen a clause which would have allowed us to exit if negotiations had irretrievably broken down. ‘But I am prepared to lend my support to this agreement because I do not believe we are likely to be trapped in the backstop permanently.’
Labour said that it is not enough for the Attorney General to come to the House. Making a bid to force the Tory government to publish the full legal advice it received ahead of the publication of May’s Brexit deal, Labour said that if they do not they will press for ‘contempt of parliamentary proceedings’.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow Solicitor General, addressing the Speaker of the House, said: ‘In the first instance it will be for you to rule whether there has been an arguable case for contempt, for what we on these benches believe to be a failure to comply.’
He told the House: ‘Isn’t the reality of this situation that the government does not want MPs to see the full legal advice for fear of the political consequences.’
He then quoted the agreement: ‘The agreement does not contain any agreement on its termination. ‘In the absence of such a provision it is not possible under international law to withdraw from the agreement unilaterally.’
Addressing the Attorney General directly he asked: ‘Can he direct me or indeed this House to any other international treaty to which the UK is a party, where it has no unilateral right to terminate it, can he even name one?
‘But actually,’ he continued, ‘it is more than that, because articles 14 and 21 of the backstop protocol are clear that its provisions shall apply unless they are superseded in whole or in part by a subsequent agreement. ‘So put simply, what that means is that parts of the backstop could become permanent even in the event that a trade deal was agreed.’