Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Position

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 3rd December 2018.

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Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General 4:49 pm, 3rd December 2018

It is very rare for the Attorney General to appear to answer questions in the House on matters of law. I am doing so, so that Opposition and Government Members can have a full, frank and thorough opportunity to ask me, as the Government’s chief legal adviser and as an adviser to the House on constitutional and legal matters, what our legal position is. I assure the House that if questions are asked, I shall answer them candidly.

The hon. Gentleman told me that I had not said anything about the subsistence of the Northern Ireland protocol. Let me make no bones about the Northern Ireland protocol: it will subsist. We are indefinitely committed to it if it comes into force. There is no point in my trying or the Government trying to disguise that fact. The truth, however, is this: what is the political imperative of either entering into it or not entering into it? That is a calculated equation of risk that each Member of this House is going to have to weigh up, and do so against different alternatives.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned that I should answer whether other treaties are permanent. Hundreds of treaties throughout the world are permanent—treaties on borders, treaties on rivers; the Vienna convention has entire sections on permanent treaties. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to enumerate some, I will write to him with them—I am afraid I do not have them to hand. There is an entire section of the Vienna convention on permanent treaties. The question whether we have a right to terminate under the convention is a matter of construction. Let me make it plain: there is no such right to terminate if the Northern Ireland protocol comes into force. The question of how likely it is to remain in force is a political judgment to be based on factors largely relating, as I have said, to in whose interests it would be to remain in it for longest. [Interruption.]