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Government law officer Lord Keen resigns over Brexit Bill


By PA News

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The Government’s top law officer for Scotland has resigned, Downing Street said, amid reports he was unhappy about plans to override the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Lord Keen of Elie QC, the Advocate General, tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister on Wednesday morning.

He was reported to be deeply unhappy after ministers admitted the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill would breach international law.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Lord Keen has resigned as Advocate General for Scotland. The Prime Minister thanks him for his service.”

Boris Johnson gives evidence to the Commons Liaison Committee (House of Commons/PA)
Boris Johnson gives evidence to the Commons Liaison Committee (House of Commons/PA)

The announcement came less than two hours after Boris Johnson was unable to tell MPs whether the peer was still in his Government.

Giving evidence to the Commons Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister said: “As far as I know, conversations on that matter are continuing.”

The Government has already seen the departure of the head of the Government Legal Department, Sir Jonathan Jones, who quit last week as the Bill was announced.

Lord Keen’s decision to offer his resignation may increase concerns among senior Conservatives dismayed at the idea that the UK could go back on its international treaty obligations.

However reports say No 10 has reached an agreement with Tory rebels threatening to try to amend the legislation in the Commons next week.

Lord Keen’s resignation came after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis appeared to directly contradict his comments in the House of Lords.

On Tuesday, Lord Keen told peers that the Bill did not “constitute a breach of international law or of the rule of law”.

He said Mr Lewis had “answered the wrong question” when he said the proposals to override elements of the Brexit divorce deal relating to Northern Ireland would break international law in a “specific and limited way”.

However, giving evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland Committee on Wednesday, Mr Lewis said he stood by his original answer – which was “absolutely in line” with the legal advice issued by Attorney General Suella Braverman.

“I gave a very straight answer to Parliament last week in line with the Attorney General’s position,” he said.

“I have spoken to Lord Keen. He has looked at the specific question I was asked last week. He has agreed with me that the answer I gave was correct to the question I was given.”

The BBC reported that Mr Johnson had reached an agreement with Tory rebels backing an amendment tabled by the chairman of the Commons Justice Committee Sir Bob Neill.

Around 30 Conservative MPs were thought to be preparing to vote for the amendment on Tuesday which would have required a Commons vote before the provisions in the Bill relating to Northern Ireland could come into force.

Ministers were said to be hoping they could defuse the revolt by agreeing to provide an “extra level of parliamentary scrutiny”.


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