Boris Johnson to face more resignations as lawyers ‘whisper’ in dismay behind PM’s back

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The shocking warning comes from BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg who told Politics Live’s Jo Coburn the Prime Minister could face yet more resignations from his legal team over his Government’s intention to break international laws in order to revisit the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The BBC editor claimed “whispers” behind Boris Johnson’s back in Westminster’s corridors suggest lawyers working for the Government do not think the legal precedent on which the newly tabled Internal Market Bill is based, is strong enough to break international agreements. 

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She said: “Whispers and the whirlwind of rumours yesterday afternoon about potentially other Government lawyers going.

“I think from conversations I had there are certainly nerves among people who work in Government about whether or not they are somehow admitting as individuals by being part of this legislation, are they accepting that they would be breaking international law.

“It is important to say though for the audience, international law and domestic law they don’t always move exactly inconsonant.

“The Government believes and the Attorney General, who is the Government’s top political law officer, they do think that this is legal under UK domestic law.

“So there isn’t one clear interpretation about this. Absolutely clear that the majority of opinion is that this is something that goes too far.”

Boris Johnson is also facing a growing Tory backlash over controversial plans to override key elements of his Brexit deal with Brussels.

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.

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?”

He suggested there was an element of “sabre-rattling” as negotiations on a free trade deal approached the final stages with both sides apparently deadlocked.

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His comments echoed Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, who said Britain had traditionally been the “chief exporter” of the rule of law around the world.

“We have been the single pillar of dependability in international negotiations… which has allowed others to prosper and indeed allowed us to prosper,” he told a British Foreign Policy Group think tank event on Tuesday.

“It’s not just about the law. Our entire economy is based on the perception that people have of the UK’s adherence to the rule of law.”

The warnings – following similar concerns expressed by former prime minister Theresa May – came as ministers tabled the Internal Market Bill containing the changes in the Commons on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister defended his plan after SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused him of “creating a rogue state” where the rule of law does not apply.

Mr Johnson told Prime Minister’s Questions the Bill is “about protecting jobs, protecting growth, ensuring the fluidity and safety of our UK internal market and prosperity throughout the UK”.

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