Tory MPs hit out as attorney general Geoffrey Cox admits Brexit backstop could be permanent

Posted On: 
3rd December 2018

Eurosceptic Tories have reacted angrily after attorney general Geoffrey Cox admitted the UK could remain in a permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox outlined his Brexit legal advice in the Commons

The top QC told MPs that the so-called “backstop” arrangement to avoid a hard border in Ireland could be “indefinite”.

He also conceded that the UK could not pull out of the scheme “unilaterally” and would instead need the agreement of Brussels to leave it.

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His comments led to Tory backbencher Desmond Swayne shouting: “It’s a trap!”

The attorney general was speaking after he published a 52-page document setting out his legal assessment of the Brexit deal agreed with the EU by Theresa May.

In it, the backstop arrangement is referred to as a “protocol” between the Government and Brussels.

Mr Cox told MPs: “If the protocol were to come into force it would continue to apply in international law unless and until it was superseded by the intended subsequent agreement, which achieved the state objectives of maintaining the necessary conditions continuing north-south cooperation, avoiding a hard border and protecting the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions.

“There is therefore no unilateral right for either party to terminate this arrangement.”

He later added: “We are indefinitely committing to it if it came into force. There is no point in the Government trying to hide that fact."

The attorney aeneral told MPs that as a unionist he had “wrestled” with whether to support the deal, which the DUP say would leave Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the UK.

But he said he believed that political pressure would prevent the backstop becoming permanent, insisting that it was worth the “calculated risk”.  

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis slammed the legal summary document, saying it was “worse than we feared".

In a statement, he said: “The backstop customs union is indefinite, the UK would be a rule-taker and the European Court is in charge of our destiny, rather than the sovereign UK Parliament. This is not Brexit.”

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dods also criticised the guidance, branding it “deeply unsatisfactory” and calling on Mr Cox to “recommend that it be rejected”.

The Commons showdown follows an ongoing row over whether Parliament can force the Government to publish Mr Cox’s legal advice – which has been seen by the Cabinet – in full.  

Speaking in the Commons today, Shadow Solicitor General Nick Thomas-Symonds said the Government had failed to meet to Parliament’s demands on its release as it didn’t “want MPs to see it “for fear of the political consequences”.