Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Sir Robert NeillMain Page: Sir Robert Neill (Conservative) - Bromley and Chislehurst)
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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.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend; the legal ingredient in any political question must be subordinate, and particularly in connection with this political question. The fact is that there are always legal risks of various kinds. We walk among legal risks all the time—some of us more than others, perhaps—but we do not determine our behaviour by them. We take practical judgments every minute of the day, every day of the week about whether the legal risks we are engaged in are ones that are worth taking. I say to my hon. Friends, as I say to all hon. Members, that we must come to a decision on this question today. I urge the House to consider carefully this: there is no real legal basis to be seriously troubled that the European Union will never reach agreement with us. If it occurs through bad faith, we have further improvements in the deal now. But just because we cannot reach agreement, when the alternative arrangements are now cemented into this deal in a manner they have not been before? I think not, in all candour.