Joanna Cherry contributions to the Immigration (Armed Forces) Bill 2017-19

Tue 12th March 2019 Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion (Commons Chamber)
1st reading: House of Commons
3 interactions (555 words)

Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion

(1st reading: House of Commons)
Joanna Cherry Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2019

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Attorney General
Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

12 Mar 2019, 12:48 p.m.

My right hon. Friend has got paragraph 16 wrong, if I may respectfully say so. What it says was that I advised in the past that that was so. What I now consider, at paragraph 17, is:

“that the legally binding provisions of the Joint Instrument and the content of the Unilateral Declaration reduce the risk”

that we would be held involuntarily and by the bad faith. Why? Because these new provisions make it easier to facilitate an effective claim to the arbitrator that that conduct is being exhibited. Those are cumulative. If one looks at the agreement as a whole, one sees that the obligations on the Union are to treat with urgency the negotiation of alternative arrangements. There is a new obligation that has not existed before in any document that the Union has agreed to, which is that it must aim to do this within 12 months of our withdrawal. That is an important obligation, because it makes time of the essence. If that deadline is passed, as in any legal jurisprudence on such matters relating in a domestic context to breach of contract, for example, that means that the parties must demonstrate that they are intensifying their efforts. If they do not, they could be in breach of their best endeavours obligation.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

12 Mar 2019, 12:54 p.m.

I start by saying that I have respect and sympathy for the Attorney General. The role of the law officer is not easy, particularly when he or she is a party political appointment, but he must nevertheless from time to time burst his party’s political bubble in the interests of professional integrity and independence of advice. Make no mistake, that is what the Attorney General has done today.

Today, the emperor has no clothes; none at all—not even a codpiece. For all the yards of flannel in paragraphs 4 to 10 of the Attorney General’s legal opinion and in today’s statement, it is quite clear, as the shadow Attorney General said, from paragraph 19 of the legal opinion that the legal position previously outlined by the Attorney General remains the same. The measures therefore fall very short of what was demanded by the Brady amendment and very short of what was promised to those in the European Research Group, which I am sure will not have been lost upon them or their lawyers.

The withdrawal agreement has not been changed, and that the Attorney General should admit that that is so is not surprising given the weight of legal opinion about the measures overnight. Some Conservative Members will not take my legal opinion for it. I am unsure why, but perhaps they think that a lawyer who is a member of the SNP is not to be trusted. At all events, I am sure that they will put some weight on the opinion of my good friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich, the former Government independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. He provided a detailed opinion overnight—[Interruption.] I hear someone muttering from the Conservative Benches that he is being paid by the people’s vote campaign, but that person ought to be aware that it is the professional duty of any senior counsel to give an objective, dispassionate opinion. Perhaps the person muttering from a sedentary position should not transfer their own motives on to someone as honourable as Lord Anderson.

I will ask the Attorney General whether he agrees with me and with a number of Lord Anderson’s points. Lord Anderson says that the measures obtained by the Prime Minister

“do not allow the UK to terminate the backstop in the event that negotiations over its future relationship with the EU cannot be brought to a satisfactory conclusion”.

That is correct, and I am sure that the Attorney General will agree. Lord Anderson also says that the measures

“do not provide the UK with a right to terminate the backstop at a time of its choosing, or indeed at any time, without the agreement of the EU.”

Lord Anderson is right that there is no unilateral exit here. He then goes on to say:

“The furthest they go is to reiterate the possibility that the backstop might be suspended”—

not got out of, but suspended—

“in extreme circumstances of bad faith on the part of the EU which”

he says

“are highly unlikely to be demonstrated.

Lord Anderson also points out:

“This was already apparent from the Withdrawal Agreement, and had been acknowledged in the Attorney General’s previous legal advice.”

Does the Attorney General agree with all those points in Lord Anderson’s independent, impartial, objective opinion? Does he further agree that in fact nothing has changed and that the Prime Minister has yet again failed to deliver on what she has promised?

Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

12 Mar 2019, 12:56 p.m.

What I hope will not be lost on my hon. and right hon. Friends is why the hon. and learned Lady is insisting and pressing upon them the facts and matters that she has just been drawing to their attention. It could be, I wonder, that there is some ulterior motive in her concern about the absence of a unilateral exit mechanism in all circumstances.

Turning to the opinion of Lord Anderson, who is always worthy of the most careful attention and the greatest of respect—as anybody of his distinction should be listened to—I take issue with some of his comments. For example—my opinion sets this out and other lawyers are commenting to that effect this morning—the hon. and learned Lady does no justice to the fact that these measures and improvements do facilitate, and mean that there is a reduction of risk in, our being able to prove and demonstrate bad faith or want of best endeavours. She says that we could not terminate, but there is in fact in my opinion a clear pathway to termination.

As the hon. and learned Lady knows, I wrote in my opinion that if in the circumstance that we got a declaration from the arbitral tribunal that there had been a lack of best endeavours, having regard to the accelerated pace of negotiation which this new agreement now imposes, we could then move to suspend our obligations, if we wished to do so, under the protocol. If that suspension was prolonged, we could invoke article 20 to argue that it was no longer necessary because the inaction of the European Union demonstrated that it must think that it was no longer necessary, and that could lead to termination. It is therefore not entirely true to say that there is no way in which the provisions could be terminated. I say to the hon. and learned Lady that suspension, in these circumstances, is as effective as termination, because the only way in which the EU could restore the position would be for it to come back to the negotiating table with genuinely new proposals.