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

I have the greatest respect for the hon. and learned Lady. She has put her case rationally and reasonably, and I will deal with her points one by one. She asked whether there was anything to prevent the protocol from becoming permanent in the event of no agreement. As a matter of international law, no there is not—it would endure indefinitely, pending a future agreement being arranged—but that does not exhaust all the matters of law. As a matter of EU law, it would, in those circumstances, be highly vulnerable to legal challenge. It is widely accepted, including by the EU Commission and taskforce 50, that article 50 is not a sound legal foundation for permanent arrangements between states. If negotiations irretrievably broke down, the protocol would de facto become permanent and therefore seriously challengeable in the Court of Justice of the European Union for being invalid. That legal uncertainty by itself is sufficient to promote to the EU the need to do a deal with us. It would be profoundly detrimental to thousands—indeed millions—of traders throughout the single market. That is one factor that convinces me that this is a risk worth taking.