Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland disorder could help UK out of backstop, says Attorney General Cox

UK Attorney General Geoffrey Cox
UK Attorney General Geoffrey Cox

The UK's top lawyer, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, has told MPs he has identified a way for the UK to escape the Irish border backstop if it causes disorder in Northern Ireland.

The backstop, aimed to prevent a hard border in Ireland, has caused a deadlock in the Brexit process, with both the DUP and Brexiteer MPs rejecting it outright.

However, the Irish Government and EU are adamant that there will be no withdrawal deal without the backstop.

The Telegraph has reported that Mr Cox believes that the UK would be able to get out of the backstop under the terms of the Vienna Convention.

The Vienna Convention is an international treaty that defines a framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries.

In his legal advice the Attorney General said that the UK could end the backstop if it had a "socially destabilising effect on Northern Ireland".

However, a team of lawyers, which includes DUP MP Nigel Dodds, set up to analyse legal changes to the Brexit deal, have rejected the advice as "erroneous" and "badly misconceived".

Mr Cox had argued that the Article 62 of the Vienna Convention would allow the UK to exit the backstop in the event of an "unforeseen and fundamental change of circumstances".

"Those facts might, for example, be that the prolonged operation of the Backstop was having a socially destabilising effect on Northern Ireland, contrary to its objective," his legal advice read.

"It is in my view clear and undoubted in those exceptional circumstances that international law provides the (UK) with the right to terminate the Withdrawal Agreement. If that were to happen, the (UK) would no doubt offer to continue to observe the unexhausted obligations in connection, for example, with citizens’ rights.”

Nigel Dodds listens to the Attorney General in the Commons.
Nigel Dodds listens to the Attorney General in the Commons.

However, the so called 'star chamber' of lawyers, which includes Mr Dodds, argued that the Vienna Convention could only be invoked under "extreme circumstances".

In the past the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of Czechoslovakia were not seen as sufficient circumstances to enact the convention.

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