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Withdrawal Agreement: Attorney General’s legal opinion on the Joint Instrument and Unilateral Declaration - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 6:30 pm, 12th March 2019

My Lords, as regards the legal advice, I refer back to paragraph 7 of the Attorney-General’s letter, in which he said that the,

“Joint Instrument extend beyond mere interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement and represent materially new legal obligations and commitments”.

To that extent, we have moved on. But of course, he also made absolutely clear that the legal risk that had been addressed in the context of whether there was a unilateral right to leave the backstop had not changed and that there was no internationally lawful means of exiting the protocol’s arrangements except by agreement. But context is everything.

On the second point, there appear ample grounds for supposing that, in taking this forward, we will arrive at a resolution of an issue that troubles lawyers but I suspect does not trouble politicians quite as much: whether or not the backstop is somehow a black or white outcome. It is not an outcome that is anticipated nor one that we believe we will have to address, and if we have to address it, we do not believe it will ever be permanent, and that for political reasons alone.