Ex-Attorney General brands PM’s Brexit plan ‘unconscionable’

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By Aishah Hussain on

Geoffrey Cox QC MP to vote to block Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial Internal Market Bill

Geoffrey Cox QC MP

Boris Johnson’s former Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, will reportedly vote to block the PM’s Brexit bill in protest at the government’s apparent plan to break international law.

As Tory revolt around the controversial legislation grew, Cox, who was sacked in February as part of the PM’s cabinet reshuffle, said it was “unconscionable” that the UK should seek to break international law by rewriting the withdrawal agreement with the European Union.

Writing in The Times (£), Cox, a pro-Brexiteer who backed the Leave campaign, warned that he would not back the UK Internal Market Bill unless ministers dispel the impression they plan to “permanently and unilaterally” rewrite an international agreement.

The Tory MP for Torridge and West Devon said tariffs and customs procedures on certain goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain were an “unpalatable but inescapable” feature of the original agreement.

He said if the powers in the Bill were used to “nullify those perfectly plain and foreseeable consequences” then it would amount to the “unilateral abrogation of the treaty obligations” signed in October.

“It is unconscionable that this country, justly famous for its regard for the rule of law around the world, should act in such a way,” he wrote.

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Cox urged ministers to use the “clear and lawful” options under the agreement to remedy their concerns that food imports may be blocked from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Or, “in extremis”, he said, they could take “temporary and proportionate measures” during an independent arbitration process, i.e. triggering the dispute resolution mechanism contained within the original agreement.

“What ministers should not do, however provoked or frustrated they may feel, is to take or use powers permanently and unilaterally to rewrite portions of an agreement into which this country freely entered just a few months ago,” he said.

Cox’s intervention came ahead of MPs debating the Bill, which returns to the Commons today for a second reading amid growing criticism that breaching international law would undermine “the standing and reputation of Britain in the world”.

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