Robert Buckland urged to join Lord Keen in resigning from Brexit bill | Politics


Justice Secretary Robert Buckland faces calls to resign over government plans to override international law after another senior official, Lord Keen, resigned rather than continue to support politics controversial.Downing Street has confirmed Keen’s departure as attorney general for Scotland. In his resignation letter, he said he “found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider to be my obligations as a lawyer with your political intentions”.

It came a week after the government’s top legal official, Jonathan Jones, resigned – and shone the spotlight on Buckland, who is also Lord Chancellor, and Attorney General Suella Braverman.

A Tory source close to Keen said he offered his resignation after clashing with Braverman in a private discussion they had on Tuesday night on the Home Market bill.

The Guardian revealed last week that a rift between the two emerged after Keen said he believed the government’s attempt to override the EU Withdrawal Treaty would put ministers in violation of the ministerial code. Braverman and Michael Ellis, the solicitor general, insisted the ministerial code only covered breaches of UK law.

The Home Market Bill seeks to enforce compatible rules and regulations regarding trade in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.Some rules, for example on food safety or air quality, which were previously set by EU agreements, will now be controlled by decentralized administrations or by Westminster. The Home Market Bill insists that devolved governments must accept goods and services from all nations of the UK – even if their standards differ locally.

This, the government says, is in part aimed at ensuring that international traders have access to the UK as a whole, confident that the standards and rules are consistent.

The Scottish government has criticized it as a ‘takeover’ of Westminster, and the Welsh government has expressed fears it will lead to a race to the bottom. If one of the countries that make up the UK lowers its standards, on importing chlorinated chicken, for example, the other three countries will have to accept chlorinated chicken as well.

It has become even more controversial because one of its main objectives is to give ministers the power to adopt regulations even if they are contrary to the Withdrawal Agreement reached with the EU under the Protocol of North Ireland.

The text does not disguise its intention, asserting that the powers contained in the bill “have effect notwithstanding any relevant international or national law with which they may be incompatible or incompatible.”

Martin Belam and Owen Bowcott

Buckland was pressed on Wednesday as to whether he should resign, rather than backing legislation that gives ministers the power to bypass the Withdrawal Agreement – an international treaty. He said he would only do so if the law had been broken “in a way that cannot be faked”. He told Sky News the government was not at this stage yet.

Dominic Grieve, a former Conservative attorney general, called on Buckland and Braverman to step down, rather than supporting legislation that violates international law.

Grieve told The Guardian: “The Attorney General appears to be an enthusiastic supporter of this completely distorted view of international law. She and Ellis do not appear to have provided any legal precedent for their comments on [breaking] international law in their [advice to the government].

“I am afraid to think that the Lord Chancellor’s position is even clearer. He takes an oath of office to uphold or protect the rule of law. The rule of law includes international law.

“Although I feel some sympathy for the former colleagues because of the position they have held, I think [Buckland’s] the position is untenable. I am afraid he should have resigned the day the bill was published. Maybe he decided to stay and try to moderate [the government’s position]. I can understand this from a moral point of view, but I think it is wrong.

Former Conservative Solicitor General Lord Garnier praised Keen for taking an honorable line and called on Braverman, Ellis and Buckland to consider their positions.

“I wondered why the judicial officers were still on duty,” he told the Guardian. “Richard Keen fought very hard to get the government to act. It was an unequal struggle. I applaud him for what he tried to do. He has done the right thing now by resigning. I hope Richard Keen’s departure will make the GA [attorney general], the Solicitor General and the Lord Chancellor are examining their positions very carefully.

Joanna Cherry, a seasoned lawyer and Scottish National Party justice spokesperson in Westminster, said Keen ultimately did the right thing by offering her resignation, but it exposed the six Scottish Tories who voted for the more measures early this week to new questions.

“No Scottish lawyer could reconcile Boris Johnson and his government’s lack of respect for the rule of law with his obligation as a Scottish court officer,” she said.

“This shows, once again, that this Conservative government cannot be trusted. And that leaves Douglas Ross and the six shameless Scottish Conservative MPs who voted for the bill fully exposed and in a totally untenable position.

Ross, the new Tory leader in Scotland, had previously sought to distance himself from Downing Street, stepping down as minister this summer to protest Dominic Cummings’ lockdown campaign in Durham.

Shadow Attorney General Lord Falconer said: “The Lord Chancellor is a decent person and a good lawyer. Lord Keen and Jonathan Jones, both serious lawyers, are gone. The Lord Chancellor cannot stay and expect to be seen as a serious lawyer.

Keen’s resignation follows difficult discussions with Falconer over the legislation, in which Keen suggested that Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis had “answered the wrong question” when he said the project of law would break the law.

Lewis categorically contradicted this on Wednesday, telling MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee: ‘I spoke to Lord Keen, when he considered the specific question that was put to me last week. He agreed with me that the answer I gave was correct. This answer I have given reflects the government’s legal advice.

No source 10 suggested Keen had been on the verge of resigning for several days, and said he did not speak to the PM on Wednesday.

His departure came despite Downing Street making a deal with Tory rebels who refused to back the Home Markets Bill when it was second reading on Monday – and an insistence from the PM that it was simply passing a “belt and suspenders” approach for the Brexit negotiations.

The Guardian understands that Keen had already told friends he was staying to “stabilize the ship.” An ally said: “This is what he seems to have done. ”

Lady Chakrabarti, the former Shadow Attorney General, who faced Keen from across the House of Lords shipping box, said: ‘All true Tories are going to search their souls today’ hui. Governments on both sides have violated national and international law this century; sometimes catastrophically.

“But never before have they bragged about it in advance. There are not enough police on the planet to establish the rule of law by force. If there were, who would protect us from them and their payers? It’s not conservatism in action, it’s something much more terrifying. He’s already raised his head in Europe and it doesn’t end well.


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