Geoffrey Cox's bid to break Brexit deal deadlock rejected by eurosceptic lawyers

Posted On: 
15th March 2019

Theresa May's hopes of securing Commons backing for her Brexit deal have been dealt a blow after a team of eurosceptic lawyers rejected Geoffrey Cox's latest attempt to end the impasse.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
Credit: 
PA Images

Legal advice prepared by the Attorney General states that the UK could use the Vienna Convention to unilaterally exit the Irish backstop.

Mr Cox said that if it was shown that the backstop - an insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland - was having a "socially destabilising effect on Northern Ireland", then Article 62 of the convention could apply, allowing the UK to leave it.

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His legal advice, seen by the Daily Telegraph, says: "It is in my view clear and undoubted in those exceptional circumstances that international law provides the [UK] with the right to terminate the Withdrawal Agreement."

But a "star chamber" of Brexiteer lawyers, including DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and veteran Tory eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash, said the Attorney General's advice was "badly misconceived".

They pointed out that the Vienna Convention can only be used "in extreme circumstances", and that even the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 did not provide enough reason to trigger it.

Star chamber member Martin Howe QC told the Evening Standard: "The leading case in the International Court of Justice shows this requires radical change of circumstances. 

"The fall of the Soviet Union, disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, and dissolution of Czechoslovakia, were not sufficient to satisfy this ground.

"The other issue is, under Article 62, the change of circumstances has to be unforeseeable. As we are talking about this ‘change of circumstances’ now, it cannot be unforeseeable."

The row once again leaves the Prime Minister facing a major challenge in her attempts to get her Brexit deal approved by MPs.

She will bring it back to the Commons next week, but without being able to provide assurances to the DUP and Tory Brexiteers that the UK will not be trapped in the backstop indefinitely, it has little chance of passing.

Talks between the Government and DUP, who the Prime Minister relies on to prop up her government, will continue over the weekend as Downing Street searches for a breakthrough.

Tory MP Conor Burns, an opponent of Mrs May's deal, said that DUP support for it would be key in persuading him and many of his colleagues to vote for it next week.