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Robert Buckland Says He Won't Resign From The Cabinet For Allowing The Government To Break International Law

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he would resign if he saw 'the rule of law being broken in a way I find unacceptable' (PA)

3 min read

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has been accused of not fulfilling “his oath to stand up for the rule of law” after suggesting he was willing to go along with Boris Johnson’s plan to break an international treaty.

He refused multiple times in a series of media appearances on Sunday morning to say if he will resign as Lord Chancellor over the controversial planned changes to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Instead he said he would only be willing to step down if the rule of law is "broken in a way that I find unacceptable".

But Labour’s shadow Attorney General Lord Falconer said: “if this is his idea of behaving honourably then there is absolutely no hope for the rule of law in this government”.

When he was sworn in last year as Lord Chancellor, and effectively put in charge of the court system, Mr Buckland took an oath pledging to “respect the rule of law, so help me God”.

By accepting the clauses in the upcoming Internal Market bill he was accused of failing to uphold that, making his position untenable.

However he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: "If I see the rule of law being broken in a way I find unacceptable then of course I will go.

"I don't believe we're going to get to that stage. I know in my mind what I have to do.

"But the government collectively here also has a responsibility, we've got to resolve any conflict, that's what we will do.”

And on Sky News he insisted the legislation, which his Cabinet colleague Brandon Lewis confirmed could break international law by overriding the existing Brexit deal, is the actions of a "responsible Government".

He said it was in accordance with "the most honourable traditions of the British state”, and again dodged the question about his own position.

"It's not a question about me or my position, the whole Government is actually committed to the rule of law,” he told Sophy Ridge On Sunday.

Labour’s shadow Lord Chancellor David Lammy said it was a “fatuous and slippery performance” from the cabinet minister.

“It is clear he is not prepared to fulfil his oath to stand up for the rule of law. He is letting down the position of Lord Chancellor,” he tweeted.

Mr Lammy added: “Each time the government breaks the law it’s a travesty. By ignoring this, the Lord Chancellor is putting career before country.”

And the shadow Attorney General Lord Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor, tweeted: “It’s up to Robert Buckland whether he stays. He’s going along with the breaches of law so he’s not going to be sacked.

“He swore to uphold the law. If this is his idea of behaving honourably then there is absolutely no hope for the rule of law in this government.”

The Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: "As Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland swore an oath to respect the rule of law. It is utterly appalling to see him shrug his shoulders like this when the Conservative Government is preparing to break it.

"It seems that under Boris Johnson, accepting the rule of law has become optional. For the sake of the future of our country, ministers must stop playing fast and loose with the rule of law. 

“Far from protecting the national interest, Boris Johnson's Government seem content to see the UK's international reputation trashed.”

Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves confirmed Labour will vote against the Internal Market bill as it stands when it comes to the Commons this week, saying she and Keir Starmer can’t back legislation “knowing that we are deliberately and consciously breaking international law”.

"It is the wrong thing to do for our moral standing in the world, but it is also absolutely counterproductive in achieving what we want to achieve, and that is a free trade agreement with the European Union - but indeed, free trade agreements around the world,” she added.

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