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Attorney General legal advice 'unchanged' but backstop risk 'reduced'

Cox says May's deal 'reduces risk' of UK held in Brexit backstop indefinitely but 'legal risk remains unchanged'

The Attorney General's legal advice on Theresa May's Strasbourg agreement says the new provisions "reduce the risk" of the UK being "indefinitely and involuntarily" held in the Irish backstop but do not remove it altogether.

Geoffrey Cox, however, states "the legal risk remains unchanged" of the UK having no legal means of exiting the backstop without EU agreement, if future relationship talks fail to reach an agreement in good faith.

The Attorney's legal advice deals a significant blow to the Prime Minister's hopes of overturning MPs' 230-vote rejection of her Withdrawal Agreement in the second "meaningful vote" on the deal in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening.

The DUP has described the opinion as "not exactly a ringing endorsement," Sky News reports.

Brexiteer Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns said the advice meant "nothing has really changed."

"It is still a bad deal so unable to vote for this. We must hold our nerve."

Mr Cox wrote in his legal advice on the Strasbourg documents: "I now consider that the legally binding provisions of the Joint Instrument and the content of the Unilateral Declaration reduce the risk that the United Kingdom could be indefinitely and involuntarily detained within the Protocol's provisions at least in so far as that situation had been brought about by the bad faith or want of best endeavours of the EU.

"It may be thought that if both parties deploy a sincere desire to reach agreement and the necessary diligence, flexibility and goodwill implied by the amplified duties set out in the Joint Instrument, it is highly unlikely that a satisfactory subsequent agreement to replace the Protocol will not be concluded.

"But as I have previously advised, that is a political judgment, which, given the mutual incentives of the parties and the available options and competing risks, I remain strongly of the view it is right to make.

"However, 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 United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol's arrangements, save by agreement."

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