Northern Ireland Protocol: First Treasury Counsel

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:32 am on 9th June 2022.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:32 am, 9th June 2022

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. Britain at its best is a country that adheres to the rule of law, sticks to its word and is trusted around the world, but under this Government the rule of law is being treated with disdain—whether it is law-breaking parties in No. 10, or the treaties they signed up to just a couple of years ago.

The Prime Minister knew that the Brexit deal he negotiated would create trade barriers in the Irish sea, which have stoked political tensions in Northern Ireland and placed strain on the Good Friday agreement. Rather than seeking workable solutions, the Government are threatening to rip up the agreement, with no concern for international law or for what is best for the people of Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK.

We are calling on both sides to find a solution. Both the UK Government and the EU must get round the table and do everything possible to solve this. Solutions exist, and must be found. Media reports suggest that the Government have not only been careless, but that the First Treasury Counsel, the Government’s independent barrister on nationally important legal issues, was not asked to give his opinion on whether imminent plans to overhaul the Northern Ireland protocol would break international law.

It would be unprecedented for the First Treasury Counsel not to be consulted on an issue of this importance. This is the issue that runs to the heart of whether this Government can be trusted to follow the rule of law. Can the Minister confirm—yes or no—did the Government ask the First Treasury Council for a specific legal opinion on whether their plans around the protocol would breach international law? Yes or no?