Carmichael secures urgent debate on legality of Northern Ireland Protocol proposals


Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today led an Urgent Question in Parliament on serious issues around the government’s approach to legal advice on proposals to unilaterally rewrite the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed with the EU. These proposals are widely believed to be in breach of international law, though the government denies this, while refusing to release any evidence for its position.

It was first reported on Tuesday that Sir James Eadie QC, First Treasury Counsel, had not been consulted on the legality of the government proposals. These reports were denied by the Prime Minister on Wednesday, before it emerged that while Sir James was consulted on aspects of the proposals, he was told not to give a specific legal opinion on the central question of whether the plan would breach international law. Sir James was told to “assume” that there was a respectable legal basis for the government’s position in a highly unusual step.

Serious concerns have been raised that the government intentionally gave a misleading impression to Conservative MPs who were alarmed about the potential breach of international law that the consultation with Sir James meant that he agreed with the legality of the proposals.

Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:

“It was reported on Tuesday evening that Sir James Eadie QC, First Treasury Counsel, had not been consulted on the legality of the proposed legislation to override the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We have subsequently learned that while Sir James was consulted on aspects of the proposals, he was, in fact, asked not to give an opinion on whether the plan would breach international law and was told to “assume” that there was a respectable legal basis for the government’s position.

“Sir James is understood to have volunteered that he found the argument of one particular lawyer advising government "considerably easier to follow and more convincing". The lawyer he cited says that it would be "very difficult" for the UK to argue it is not "breaching international law".

“It is a matter of fundamental import to this House that members are being told by the government that the content of a Bill is not in breach of international law when that assertion is based on information that is incomplete and apparently intentionally so.”

In his response, the minister, James Cleverly MP, repeatedly refused to answer any significant questions from MPs, stating that the government believed its proposals were compatible with international law but that it would not publish legal advice.

Reacting after the Urgent Question, Mr Carmichael said:

“The government is hiding behind a convention of legal privilege that it has already undermined itself by giving incomplete and inaccurate information to MPs in order to assert that its position is legal. The legal advice must be published, in full, along with clarity on how ministers have attempted to circumvent contrary advice from senior lawyers.

“Cleverly’s evasiveness and stonewalling of Parliament’s right to information is bad enough. The contempt that his colleagues appear to have for the rule of law and basic good governance in our country is even worse.”


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