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Former UK Attorney General condemns offer to rewrite Brexit deal



LONDON (AP) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson was trying to tone down growing opposition to his plan to unilaterally rewrite the divorce agreement between Britain and the European Union on Monday, after his former attorney general said that it would permanently damage the reputation of the UK.

Geoffrey Cox, who was the government’s top legal official when Johnson negotiated the deal less than a year ago, said reneging on the deal would be an “unacceptable” violation of international law.

Cox, previously a strong Johnson supporter on Brexit, has said he will not back the proposal when the House of Commons takes its first vote on the contentious legislation later on Monday.

“I just cannot endorse or approve of a situation where we go back on our solemnly given word,” Cox said Monday on Times Radio. “Failure to follow the law ultimately leads to very long-term and permanent damage to the reputation of this country.”

Johnson’s move threatens to undermine negotiations already underway between Britain and the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal.

As part of the Brexit divorce deal, Britain and the EU agreed to keep Northern Ireland – the only part of the UK to share a border with the bloc – bound to certain rules of EU trade, to avoid the need for border controls on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Both sides agreed to the compromise to protect the open border, which helps support the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Johnson says the EU threatened to use “an extreme interpretation” of the Withdrawal Agreement to “block” food shipments from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland unless Britain does not accept EU regulations. He says it threatens the integrity of the UK

The Home Market Bill, which the government hopes to pass in a few weeks, would give the UK government the power to override the agreed EU role in monitoring trade between mainland Britain and Ireland from North.

The EU denies threatening a blockade and says it just wants Britain to respect the terms of the deal.

EU leaders are outraged by the Prime Minister’s proposal, which the UK government says violates an international treaty.

The bloc has threatened the UK with legal action if it does not drop the proposal by the end of the month.

With a majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons, Johnson is expected to have enough votes to push his legislation through Parliament. But Cox’s opposition reflects widespread unease within the ruling Conservative Party.

Conservative lawmaker Rehman Chishti resigned his post as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on religious freedom on Monday to protest the bill. He tweeted that as a former lawyer, “the values ​​of respecting the rule of law and living up to one’s word are dear to me.”

Cox, a respected lawyer who has been a strong advocate for the government in parliamentary debates on the withdrawal agreement last year, said the “unpleasant” consequences of the withdrawal agreement were well known during its negotiation.

He said that rather than reneging on its international commitments, the government should use the legal remedies contained in the agreement itself to challenge any unreasonable behavior by the EU.

“No UK minister should make a solemn commitment to honor treaty obligations with fingers crossed behind their back,” Cox wrote in The Times of London.

The debate comes at a crucial time for talks between Britain and the EU.

The UK officially left the bloc on January 31, but existing trade rules remain in place until the end of this year as part of a transitional deal designed to give time to negotiate a long-term trade deal term.

Despite the coldness of relations between London and Brussels and the threat of legal action, trade negotiations between the two parties are expected to continue this week. Both sides say any deal must be done by next month, so it’s time for it to be ratified by December 31.

If there is no deal, tariffs and other trade barriers will be imposed by both parties in early 2021.

It would mean a huge economic disruption for the UK, which does half of its trading with the bloc. A no-deal exit on January 1 would also hit some EU countries hard, including Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

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