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UK government lawyers under fire
Boris Johnson

11 Sep 2020 / brexit Print

UK government lawyers under fire

Lawyers in UK ministerial posts have been forced to defend their position, according to the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales, as the UK government was attacked from all sides over plans to rewrite parts of the EU withdrawal agreement.

Critics lined up to condemn Boris Johnson and his government yesterday (10 September) over the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which was published on Wednesday.

It has been suggested - and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis admitted in parliament - that the bill risks breaking international law.


Despite concerns over the UK’s adherence to the rule of law, justice minister Lord Keen of Elie and attorney general Suella Braverman defended their continued roles in government.

Speaking in the House of Lords, Keen said: “I continue in post and continue to advise, encourage and stipulate adherence to the rule of law - understanding that, from time to time, very real tensions can emerge between our position in domestic law and our position in international law.

“It is not unprecedented for legislation passed by this parliament to cut across obligations taken at the level of international law. In those circumstances, domestic legislation prevails.”

'Stinking hypocrisy'

Shadow attorney general Lord Falconer of Thoroton said the government’s acceptance that it was breaking international law would be “thrown in the UK’s face for years”. He questioned how the government could command authority to demand compliance with new measures on COVID-19.

“The rule of law is not pick and mix, with acceptable laws chosen by the home secretary or an adviser in Number 10. This stinking hypocrisy chokes our country’s reputation and destroys our government’s ability to lead at home and make agreements abroad,” he said.

'Highly exceptional'

Braverman issued a statement saying the bill was designed to promote the continued functioning of an internal market in the UK after the conclusion of the transition period provided for in the withdrawal agreement.

“It is an established principle of international law that a state is obliged to discharge its treaty obligations in good faith. This is, and will remain, the key principle in informing the UK’s approach to international relations,” she said.

“However, in the difficult and highly exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves, it is important to remember the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty,” she added.

However, the attorney general and the lord chancellor Robert Buckland both faced calls during the day to resign over the government’s actions, according to the Gazette.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland