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 position on money is this. The view of the Government, and my view, is that we would have obligations to pay a certain amount of money were we to leave the European Union without a deal. The House of Lords European Union Committee concluded that there would be no obligation under EU law. That is a stronger argument—not necessarily an incontestable one—as to our obligations under EU law, but the Committee also concluded that we might have obligations under public international law, and with that I agree. There is an argument that we would not have an obligation under public international law, but it is an argument unlikely to be accepted by any international tribunal.

My view is therefore that we would owe a presently unquantifiable sum were we to leave the European Union without a deal. It is impossible at this stage to say how much. It is true that the European Union is not a member state and is not a state, and therefore it is unable to take the case to the International Court of Justice. It might therefore be difficult to enforce the public international law obligation that existed. However, I ask the House to reflect on the fact that if this country, acknowledging that such obligations probably exist or do exist, did not pay them, it would be likely to cause the deepest resentment, just as it would to any of us who were unpaid a debt. If we leave a club, we pay the bar bill. If we do not pay the bill, we are not likely to get a lot of consideration from the other side.