Sir William Cash 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 (134 words)

Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion

(1st reading: House of Commons)
Sir William Cash Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Attorney General
Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Mar 2019, 12:59 p.m.

Of course I can confirm all those things, which are self-evident in the agreement. May I just point out to the right hon. Gentleman that although I am sure it is a clever forensic point, the circumstance in which a point of European Union law would arise in connection with the best endeavours and bad faith clauses is difficult to envisage? The reality is that it is a straightforward question of fact: is the European Union moving with the urgency and pace, to the procedural timetables and according to the procedural steps that this agreement now enforces?

The right hon. Gentleman is an honest politician, and he cannot look these things in the face and say that they mean nothing. These are important amplifications and clarifications of the duty of best endeavours. I quite agree with him, as I very much doubt we would ever get to an arbitral tribunal, because what these duties, new clarifications and amplifications do is set the framework for people’s conduct within the negotiation. It is about the impact on their behaviour and conduct. Very rare is the case in which one would get to an arbitral tribunal. What matters is the framework of obligations and responsibilities, and those have materially tightened on the European Union.

Sir William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Mar 2019, 1:02 p.m.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his opinion, which is not only for the Government, I would stress, but for Parliament and for the voters. The substance of the backstop issue to which he has just referred is the legal, constitutional and, therefore, political status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, which cannot be put at risk.

My right hon. and learned Friend refers to a reduced risk of the UK being “indefinitely” detained in the protocol, but he adds that, ultimately, there is

“no internationally lawful means of exiting”

unless both the EU and the UK agree. Does he therefore appreciate, on his own terms, that this fundamental legal impediment trumps political considerations and that, therefore, there would be insufficient protection for Northern Ireland to continue as part of the United Kingdom?

Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Mar 2019, 1:02 p.m.

I do not agree. My hon. Friend knows we have a difference of opinion, and I hope that he will move towards my position. I still hope that might be so, and I say that because one has to look at the mutual incentives and disincentives for both parties to stay in the arrangement. I made this point in December and, for the reasons I advanced in December and in my November opinion, the incentives or disincentives for the European Union are as profound, if not greater, to get us out of the backstop than to keep us in it. That is what I firmly believe. He may disagree, but that is what I believe.

That is why I have taken the political judgment that this withdrawal agreement needs to be supported but, in saying that, these improvements do make a difference. In the last line of my advice, I say there can be no lawful exit unless there is a fundamental change of circumstance. It is extremely important to remember that there is always a right to terminate a treaty unilaterally if circumstances fundamentally change. There is no question but that we have a right to exit if those circumstances apply.