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

The right hon. Gentleman points out that we are in a unique situation. There has never been a case in which a country has seceded from the European Union, and there has never been a case in which 45 years of legal integration of a state the size of the United Kingdom has been untangled. That will take time, and it must be done in an orderly way. I will write to the right hon. Gentleman if there are any specific examples to assist me, but the fact of the matter is that I doubt it, which is the frank answer, because we are in this extraordinary and unique situation.

To address the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question, I will repeat myself: what does he expect us to do? When he was a member of the Cabinet, if he believed that to take an action would be fundamentally contrary to the public interest of this country, I suspect that he would find that a difficult situation to resolve. The House’s resolution is entitled to the greatest of respect, and the Government and I are inclined to do as much as we can and to go as far as we can, which is why I have come to the House today—it has barely happened more than a few times in the past 50 or so years—to answer the House’s questions. However, I cannot take a step that I believe in conscience would be against the public interest and potentially seriously harmful to a fundamental constitutional principle and the temporal interests of this country in the midst of a negotiation.