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Boris Johnson urged to reveal legal advice over tearing up NI protocol

Legislation may breach international law but Government defends move


Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is under pressure to reveal the secret sources behind his Government’s advice that controversial plans to tear up the NI Protocol are legal.

Tory MPs are already braced for the legislation, to be published today, to breach international law, despite protestations from cabinet ministers that it will be lawful.

Last week Sir Jonathan Jones, the Government’s former top lawyer, said the process of gathering legal advice felt like a “stitch-up” and “like lawyer-shopping”.

Now Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Alliance Party have called on ministers to set aside usual practice and reveal who they consulted. Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle said the Government should release the legal advice it received with “transparency about its origins”.

Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael, who served a cabinet minister in the coalition government, said the process of obtaining independent legal advice “should not be tainted by politics”, adding: “It looks to me like they have gone out looking for a political judgment.”

“The rule about not disclosing legal advice depends on the Government acting in good faith and getting the best independent advice. It is not apparent that they have not done that here and as a result they should not be allowed to hide behind a rule that they themselves have already broken.”

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Sir Jonathan’s criticism followed reports Sir James Eadie, the Government’s independent barrister on national legal issues, was specifically not consulted on whether or not the planned bill will break international law. A former cabinet minister said not asking Sir James’s opinion was “unprecedented”.

Meanwhile, leaked correspondence showed a senior legal adviser warned that it could not be “credibly” argued there was no alternative to unilaterally overriding the Brexit agreement with Brussels.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry MP said ministers should be transparent about which lawyers were consulted. “In light of the Government moving outside the normal process of legal advice they need to be fully transparent,” he said.

But the Northern Ireland Secretary said the Government would set out the “legal basis’ for its belief the legislation will not breach international law. 

Asked if the new legislation will be in breach of the law, Brandon Lewis told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “The legislation we’ll outline tomorrow is within the law. What we’re going to do is lawful and it is correct. We will be setting out our legal position on this.

“People will see that what we’re proposing resolves the key issues within the protocol that don’t work.”

However, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Lewis was “talking through his hat, and not for the first time”, while SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the Government was “fooling nobody” with its claims on the legality of the legislation.

But DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the party had been told “bits and pieces of what’s there, but since it’s been a changing feast all week, until we see the final draft, it’s impossible to make a judgment”.

And DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that while the bill’s publication “is a welcome milestone”, that “does not remove the Irish Sea border but does demonstrate progress”.

“We will judge the proposed new arrangements against our seven tests to determine whether they respect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK,” he added.

He added: “Those MPs on all sides of the House who are minded to vote against the bill, would do well to remember they are playing with stability in Northern Ireland and delaying the restoration of political balance.

“If we can legislate to address the problems with the protocol, then there will be a great prize of stable devolution.”

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