Tuesday, 20 Oct 2020

BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg issues devastating Brexit warning over Boris Johnson’s plans

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BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg explained the legal precedent which Boris Johnson’s Government said allows his Government to change the Brexit withdrawal agreement is “pretty skinny”. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Todya programme, she noted that it was not enough for the Government’s top lawyer Sir Jonathan Jones who has resigned on Tuesday in a worrying move. His departure was confirmed by the Attorney General’s Office, which declined to comment on the reason for the latest exit in a string of resignations of top civil servants.

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Ms Kuenssberg said: “I think the truth of this move which we will see fully in black and white after a couple of days of speculation and controversy about this bill is more complicated than one particular element.

“It is about the specifics of Northern Ireland but it is also about the high stakes chess game that is going on right now with the European Union.

“Both in the trade talks and in how special arrangements for Northern Ireland will work after we leave the departure lounge of the transition period at the end of the years.

“I think however Matt Hancock or other ministers try to explain this, we heard a loose end from George Eustice did indeed end up being someone else’s deeply controversial manoeuvre.

“I think it is really of note that we heard yesterday on the floor of the House of Commons that the Government was planning to break the law.

“Do not adjust your radio, this did actually happen.

“The Government said there’s precedent to do this to give UK ministers powers over matters which have been agreed with international partners.

“But that precedent seems pretty skinny. It wasn’t enough for the Government’s own top lawyer who has quit.

“The point here is however many shades of legal opinion there are, this is part of a high risk and provocative way of running the political game with the EU and the outcome of that will affect so much for all of us.”

Mr Johnson is facing a growing Tory backlash over controversial plans to override key elements of his Brexit deal with Brussels, in breach of international law.

MPs reacted angrily after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said on Tuesday that legislation to change the Withdrawal Agreement would go against international law in a “very specific and limited way”.

Ministers have argued the measures are necessary to ensure “damaging” tariffs are not imposed by “default” on goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement fail.

But a series of senior Conservatives have expressed dismay, warning the move risks undermining Britain’s standing and reputation as an upholder of international law.

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Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said that if the Government went through with the changes to the agreement – which secured the UK’s departure from the EU in January – it would “lose the moral high ground”.

“This is about the rule of law and our resolve and commitment to uphold it,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“To unilaterally ignore any treaty in its obligations which we’ve signed and submitted to the United Nations would actually go against everything we believe in.”

“How can we look at countries such as China in the eye and complain about them breaching international obligations over Hong Kong, or indeed Russia over ballistic missiles, or indeed Iran over the nuclear deal if we go down this road?”

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