A minister in Britain’s Foreign Office has refused to say if a senior government lawyer was asked to give advice on whether plans to unilaterally scrap the Northern Ireland protocol would break international law.
According to the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales, Sir James Eadie QC, the First Treasury Counsel and so-called ‘Treasury Devil’, was reportedly not consulted about the legality of proposed legislation to override the protocol.
Prime minister Boris Johnson told MPs this week that a report by Sky News – which stated that Eadie was not asked to give his opinion on whether overhauling the protocol would break international law – was “not correct”.
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael told the House of Commons, however, that Johnson’s answer appeared to be “at the very least… incomplete”.
He said Eadie “was in fact asked not to give an opinion on whether the plan would breach international law, and was told to assume that there was a respectable legal basis for the government’s position”.
According to the Gazette, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said that the British government was “confident that our actions are lawful under international law”. He added: “In line with a long-standing convention, we do not set out internal legal deliberations.”
Labour MP Catherine West asked if “a specific legal opinion on whether their plans around the protocol would breach international law” was requested from Eadie, to which Cleverly said: “In accordance with the long-standing convention we do not discuss legal advice given to government.”
Another Labour MP, Maria Eagle, raised concerns that Eadie was “asked to give only very selective advice” and asked for reassurances that the barrister was “not constrained in any way from giving whatever advice he thought appropriate”.
Cleverly replied: “The government are confident that our actions are in accordance and consistent with international law. In accordance with a long-standing convention in this house, we do not discuss the content or nature of legal advice to government.”