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Wed, 21 October 2020

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Suella Braverman Has Told MPs Her Legal Justification For Breaking International Law Is "Pretty Basic"

Suella Braverman Has Told MPs Her Legal Justification For Breaking International Law Is 'Pretty Basic'
3 min read

Attorney General Suella Braverman has clashed with angry MPs over the government's aim to give itself the power to break international law on Brexit, defending the move as a “pretty basic principle of law”.

Ms Braverman – the government’s top legal officer – suggested one MP was being emotional and unpatriotic, and hit back at the Scottish National Party for having “written the textbook” on breaking the rules.

Five former prime ministers and the former attorney general Geoffrey Cox have criticised the government’s plan to break parts of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement if it wants to, which it laid out in its new Internal Market Bill.

Lord Keen, the UK's law officer for Scotland, quit his job during the backlash, and in the US Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, warned Congress it would never pass a free trade deal with the UK if it put the Northern Irish peace process in jeopardy. 

Speaking at the despatch box, Braverman said: “Parliamentary supremacy means it is entirely constitutional and proper for Parliament to enact legislation, even if it breaches international treaty obligations.”

Shadow attorney general Ellie Reeves suggested that Braverman, as a barrister, must uphold the rule of law “without fear or favour” and asked what she had done recently to defend the law.

Braverman said: “I prefer to take a less emotional approach than the honourable lady. I’m extremely proud to support this bill. It protects our country and safeguards the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.”

She said Labour’s opposition was unpatriotic and that Reeves was being illogical and did not want the country to thrive.

In a series of tense exchanges, which saw Braverman grilled for an hour, she was asked repeatedly to explain how the government could renege on parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol part of the Withdrawal Agreement which had already been agreed with the EU.

She was accused by the SNP’s Stuart C McDonald of putting Brexit fanaticism ahead of her loyalty to the rule of law and told she risked trashing the reputation of the role of attorney general.

She said: “It’s entirely proper, it’s entirely constitutional and lawful in domestic law to enact legislation that may operate in breach of international law or treaty obligations. It’s a pretty basic principle of law. If the honourable gentleman is having trouble understanding, I’d be very happy to sit down and explain it to him.”

Tory MP and chair of the justice select committee Bob Neill was seen shaking his head when he asked Braverman to explain what legal advice she had taken from legal officials in her department, and she said it wouldn’t be correct for her to do that because of the Law Officers' Convention.

In another clash, she accused the SNP’s Joanna Cherry QC of hypocrisy for talking about breaking rules when the named persons proposals for Scottish children had been in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. She also claimed that Cherry’s own party were trying to break rules to stop her from standing as a member of the Scottish Parliament.  

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle intervened to say: “I’m not quite sure we’re going to have responsibility for the SNP conference at the moment.”

Cherry had earlier pointed out legal precedent in the Gina Miller case had showed that international treaties like the withdrawal agreement are not governed by domestic law of any state.

She asked why Braverman had failed to read out that part when she referred to the Miller case earlier, saying: “Didn’t she learn the rule against selective citation when she was at law school?”

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