All Lord Dodds of Duncairn contributions to the Immigration (Armed Forces) Bill 2017-19

Tue 12th March 2019
3 interactions (240 words)

Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion

(1st reading: House of Commons)
Lord Dodds of Duncairn Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2019

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Attorney General
Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General
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12 Mar 2019, 1:05 p.m.

No unilateral declaration is worth the paper it is written on if it is objected to. My understanding is that it is not objected to and that it will be deposited alongside the withdrawal agreement and, therefore, will carry legal weight under article 31 of the Vienna convention.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP)
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I join others in commending the Attorney General, and I pay tribute to him for his dealings with us and for holding entirely to his word in delivering a totally objective and fair legal analysis and opinion on whatever came back. I pay tribute to him publicly, in addition to what I have said to him privately in that regard.

In relation to reducing the risk of being held in the backstop by the EU acting in bad faith or for want of best endeavours, does the Attorney General agree with paragraph 29 of his previous advice that all the EU

“would have to do to show good faith would be to consider the UK’s proposals, even if they ultimately rejected them. This could go on repeatedly without such conduct giving rise to bad faith or failure”?

If it is not a question of bad faith, and if it is just a question of the two sides not being able to reach agreement, he says in paragraph 19 of today’s legal opinion that the “legal risk remains unchanged”.

We already know what the Irish Government and others see as the ultimate destination for Northern Ireland—the backstop is the bottom line. From what the Attorney General is saying today, provided there is no bad faith, the fact is that Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom could be trapped if the EU does not agree with the United Kingdom to a superseding agreement.

Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General
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I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, which I will deal with point by point. First, my opinion has changed in connection to this country’s ability to prove bad faith if it occurred. There is now a new contextual framework for judging whether the other party is using best endeavours or good faith.

Time has been made of the essence in specific connection to negotiating alternative arrangements. A specific work track and a specific timetable are set out, and it would be unconscionable, as I say in my opinion—I forget the paragraph, but the right hon. Gentleman will have it—if having said to this country that it will set up a specific, discrete work track on alternative arrangements, which are defined in this new document as meaning facilitative techniques, technologies and customs procedures, and if having set up a timeline for negotiating those alternative arrangements by saying “12 months, or we must intensify our efforts,” it never agreed to use a single one, and if it refused every proposal reasonably adjusted to its core interests. That would be extraordinary.

I say in my written opinion, and I stand by it, that it would be a potential breach of best endeavours and good faith. Best endeavours are now defined in this joint instrument as requiring the EU to consider adverse interests and matters that are adverse to its interests. Even if these facilitative technological and customs measures were adverse to the EU’s interests, the duty still requires it to consider them. Therefore if there were a pattern of refusal, a systematic refusal, to consider these alternative arrangements, we would have a case before the arbitration panel, and it would be a potentially serious breach of good faith.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman with all candour that I believe that, and he knows I would not say it if I did not mean it. It is there in my written opinion, and I urge him to consider it.