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

Article 20 permits both sides to consider, even when no final agreement has yet been reached, whether alternative arrangements might suffice to protect the stated objectives of the Northern Ireland protocol. If they do, both sides could agree to put in place those alternative arrangements before any final agreement had been reached.

It is important to remember that, when one says final agreement, it is of course possible, indeed likely, that it may be a series of agreements reached at different times. My answer to my right hon. Friend is that article 20 creates that ability, but it is not a unilateral right of termination. It does not give us a right to walk away. It creates a procedure and obliges the European Union to consider alternative arrangements that are not part of a final deal.

I think my right hon. Friend went on to ask me about article 50 and the time it might take. The period of years he mentions is probably far too long, but it is impossible to say. What one can say is that, long before any case is brought, the pressure bringing those cases to the Court would be telling upon the Governments of the member states and upon the European Union. The legal uncertainty would be intense, and it is a real factor that this House must weigh up in considering whether the protocol is something that it wishes to support.