Government’s Brexit legal advice is finally revealed

  • Secret legal advice published after May suffered historic Commons defeats 
  • The document lays bare the chance Britain could be left in the backstop forever 
  • Attorney General’s private advice painted a bleaker picture of the legal position 
  • It warns that the Irish border ‘will endure indefinitely’ without a new agreement 
  • Also says the plan does not provide a ‘lawful’ way out customs union a new deal 
  • Concludes ‘in the absence of a right of termination, there is a legal risk’ 
  • Andrea Leadsom said publishing the document set a dangerous precedent
  • May was back at the Commons Despatch Box for PMQs today after three defeats
  • Another Leave MP Tory Mark Harper went public against the deal today
  • Chris Skidmore was appointed to replace Sam Gyimah who quit over the deal

Britain could be stuck in the Irish backstop forever if trade talks with the EU break down, the Cabinet was warned in secret legal advice. The document, drawn up by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (left) for senior ministers, said the measure is ‘intended to subsist even when negotiations have broken down’. Mr Cox said it was impossible for Britain to escape the backstop unilaterally and it was a political deal with Brussels was the only way out. Earlier, MPs were warned by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom they would live to ‘regret’ forcing the Government to publish the document. The paper was published today after Tory rebels joined forces with Labour to consign Theresa May (top in Downing Street today) to three humbling defeats in 63 minutes of chaos last night – the worst hour in Parliament for any Prime Minister in 40 years.

Britain could be stuck in the Irish backstop forever if trade talks with the EU break down, the Prime Minister was warned in secret legal advice.

The advice drawn up for the Cabinet was finally published today after MPs voted to find the Government in contempt of Parliament for the first time yesterday – one of three defeats last night in the worst day in the Commons for a PM in 40 years.

Both Leave and Remain MPs demanded the secret advice amid suspicion Attorney General Geoffrey Cox gave a bleaker assessment of how the deal works privately to Cabinet than he revealed publicly on Monday.

The new version paints a much starker and unspun outline of the legal risks of the backstop but is not materially different to what Mr Cox had said earlier.

Mr Cox’s advice said the backstop is ‘intended to subsist even when negotiations have broken down’ – meaning it has been designed to last forever if talks fail.

He said ‘despite statements in the Protocol it is not intended to be permanent and the clear intention of the parties that it should be replaced by alternative, permanent arrangements, in international law the protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place’.

The Attorney said it was impossible for Britain to escape the backstop unilaterally and a political deal with Brussels was the only way out.

Mr Cox said ‘this remains the case even if parties are still negotiating many years later and even if the parties have believe that talks have clearly broken down and there is no prospect of a future relationship agreement’.

The letter says goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland must be subject to a ‘declaration process’. It said Britain would be ‘essentially treated as a third country’ by Northern Ireland.

DUP leader Nigel Dodds said the advice was ‘devastating’ and a clear border down the Irish Sea – something he said Mrs May had promised would never happen.

Earlier, MPs were warned by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom they would live to ‘regret’ forcing the Government to publish the letter.

The latest blow to Mrs May comes after yesterday’s historic triple defeat in the Commons lobbies.

The Prime Minister face MPs again today as she returned to the Despatch Box for PMQs. In the worst defeat, 26 Tory rebels sided with Labour to push through an amendment that would let MPs step in if her deal is defeated next Tuesday.

The five-day Brexit deal debate will continue this afternoon after it adjourned at just after 1am this morning.