Law officer offers ‘resignation’ on Brexit Bill Row

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The UK government’s Scottish law officer Lord Keane has offered the Prime Minister his resignation.

BBC Scotland understands that the Advocate General has found it difficult to reconcile plans to end the Brexit withdrawal agreement with legislation.

Lord Keane’s resignation has not yet been accepted by Downing Street.

BBC Scotland’s chief political correspondent Glenn Campbell said an attempt was made to persuade the law officer to continue in office.

The government’s most senior lawyer – Sir Jonathan Jones, Permanent Secretary of the Government Legal Department – has already resigned over the legislation, which passed its first parliamentary test on Monday.

  • PM’s Brexit is the first hurdle in Bill Commons

The row centers on the UK government’s internal market bill, which Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said MPs could “break international law” by overriding the withdrawal agreement signed with the European Union.

Lord Keane later argued in the House of Lords that his view was that “the bill itself does not violate international law or the rule of law”.

He said Mr Lewis “essentially answered the wrong question”.

But the Northern Ireland secretary has since doubled, saying his statement was a “very direct answer”, “absolutely in line” with legal advice.

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Media captionBrandon Lewis says he gave the “right” answer when asked if the Internal Markets Bill would break international law.

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuensberg said that Lord Keane’s resignation was rumored, and ultimately “Brandon Lewis opposed him this morning”.

Richard Keane was the chairman of the Scottish Conservative until he was appointed as Advocate General in 2015 – when he was also made life-saving as Baron Keane of Ellie.

QC has represented the UK government in a number of high-profile cases, including the abolition of Parliament in 2019 and the “Article 50” Brexit case in 2016-17.

What is the Internal Market Bill?

The bill sets the rules for conducting the UK’s internal market trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, after the end of the Brexit transition period in January.

It offers:

  • No new checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to the rest of Great Britain
  • Giving powers to UK ministers to modify or “disappear” regulations relating to the movement of goods will come into force from 1 January if the UK and EU are unable to reach an alternative agreement through a trade agreement.
  • Powers to override previously agreed obligations on state aid – government support for businesses

The bill clearly states that these powers should apply even if they are inconsistent with international law.

Ministers say legislation is needed to prevent “harmful” tariffs on goods traveling to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK if negotiations with the EU on the Free Trade Agreement fail.

But some senior conservatives – including former Prime Minister John Major – have warned it of the risks that underpin Britain’s reputation as a holder of international law.

The law has also proved controversial with deviant administrations concerned with how the UK’s “internal market” will operate after Brexit and who will set the rules and standards.