Blow for Theresa May as Geoffrey Cox says new Brexit deal could still keep UK trapped in backstop
Theresa May's new-look Brexit deal would not prevent the UK from being trapped in the Irish backstop indefinitely against its will, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has declared.
In a devastating blow for the Prime Minister, the top QC's legal advice makes clear that the changes to the deal she agreed with the EU would not allow the UK to leave the arrangement - which is designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland - unilaterally.
Mrs May had insisted that the agreement - which she struck following late-night talks in Strasbourg - meant "there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop" if talks with the EU break down.
In his legal advice published less than eight hours before MPs are due to vote on the deal, Mr Cox said the new deal would "reduce the risk the the United Kingdom could be indefinitely and involuntarily detained within the Protocol's (backstop's) provisions".
He then made clear that the UK would be unable to quit the backstop without the approval of Brussels.
He said: "The legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamential circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocal's arrangements, save by agreement."
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said the Government's Brexit plans were "in tatters".
"The Attorney General has confirmed that there have been no significant changes to the Withdrawal Agreement despite the legal documents that were agreed last night," he said.
"The Government’s strategy is now in tatters."
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, of the Best for Britain campaign group, said: "This is a disaster for the Government. This must be the final nail in the coffin of this awful deal.
"There should be no lingering doubts: this deal will leave us trapped and surrenders our sovereignty. I doesn’t ‘take back control’ as Leavers wanted, and it’s a million miles away from what Remainers want.
"The Government tried to pull the wool over Parliament’s eyes last time and flopped. MPs must vote down this wretched deal, extend Article 50 and back the only credible route out of this Brexit mess – a public vote."
However Tory MP and Brexiteer Daniel Kawczynski told BBC 5 Live, in reaction to Mr Cox’s letter, that many of his colleagues will base their vote this evening on the verdict of the DUP.
“There are people in my constituency and even senior party members who are urging me to vote for it just to get it over the finishing line. I think what will be critical is what our partners, the DUP, say."
“They are at the coalface of this issue. They represent constituencies that will potentially be most adversely affected.
“[The DUP] have as yet not come out either way and I think the way they indicate that they are going to vote is going to convince a lot of Conservative MPs one way or the other.”