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Brandon Lewis Suggests Legal Advice On Overriding Northern Ireland Protocol Will Not Be Published

4 min read

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has suggested the full legal advice the government has received on the lawfulness of a contentious new bill seeking to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol will not be published.

The legislation, which will be published on Monday, aims to ease trading processes between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

However, some legal experts have suggested that overriding sections of the original post-Brexit treaty without the consent of the EU could breach international law.

Downing Street argues it has been left with no choice but to alter the protocol through primary legislation after failing to reach an agreement following many months of negotiations with the EU.

In correspondence leaked to PoliticsHome, a senior figure advising the government on legal matters says they hold the view that the planned new bill cannot be "credibly" argued on legal grounds there is currently no alternative to unilaterally disapplying the treaty, and that it is "very difficult" for the ministers to make that case.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday Morning, Lewis insisted the new bill would not breach international law but also defended the government’s decision not to publish the full legal advice it has received on the matter.

“We're going to set out tomorrow not just the bill [...] but we'll also set out the government's legal position on it and I know people want to see our legal position,” the minister said.

“So, we'll do that to make sure people see this is within international law,” he added.

“People are giving views about it [that] haven't seen the bill yet.

“So, let's let people see the bill and they'll see our legal position on it and I think people will see this is within international law.”

The Northern Ireland Secretary stressed that the government’s priority is to protect the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and said the Northern Ireland Protocol as it is currently functioning is “fundamentally undermining it”.

“Let's not forget even in 2019 the then-Attorney General was very clear the primacy has to be, and for us as a government rightly is, on the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in all three strands,” Lewis said.

“That's what we're going to focus on delivering.”

Two MPs have told PoliticsHome they were preparing themselves for the prospect of having the whip removed if they vote against the legislation when it goes to a House of Commons vote.

One Conservative MP said: "The government's strategy to rebuild trust is a kamikaze one: repeat the law breaking of Owen Paterson and Partygate and force MPs into defending more law breaches. [Tory MPs facing Lib Dems] will be especially delighted."

Away from the Northern Ireland Protocol, on the matter of helping the public with soaring inflation, Lewis did not rule out the idea of introducing further cuts to fuel duty.

Government introduced a 5p cut to fuel duty earlier this year, however concerns have been raised that petrol companies are not passing the tax reduction on to customers.

Some figures, including the President of AA Edmund King, have called for Sunak to raise the fuel duty cut to 10p.

The calls come as average petrol prices hit £100 for the first time this month.

“We all want to see lower taxes and I know people are challenged with not just fuel pump for cars, but actually on energy more generally,” Lewis said.

“In my part of the world in Norfolk a lot of people on oil fired central heating have seen those prices rise as well,” he added.

“We want to support that, but as I say, we've got to do that in a fiscally sensible way to make sure we're getting the right.

“It's why the Chancellor wants to… make sure that any action we do take does get passed on to people and the people get the benefit of it.”

Speaking on the BBC, the Director General of the Confederation of British Industry Tony Danker said households are already entering into a recession this year.

“Consumption and spending we all make is going to go negative this year," Danker said.

“I think the government need to recognize confidence building, economic confidence building, rather than political confidence building is actually the order of the day right now,” he added.

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