It comes as former PM Theresa May makes her displeasure clear and ministers are accused of “trashing the best of the UK”
The Prime Minister’s reported plan to scrap parts of his Brexit withdrawal deal “does break international law”, a cabinet minister has admitted, as the head of the UK government’s legal department has resigned due to his concerns about the plan.
Brandon Lewis, the Secretary for Northern Ireland, made the confession to members of parliament in the House of Commons, but has insisted that the legal breach would be in a “very specific and limited way”.
This comes after Boris Johnson is reportedly planning new legislation that would override key parts of the withdrawal agreement, the treaty in which would seal the UK’s exit from the European Union in January, in a move that could risk collapsing trade deals, as reported by the Financial Times (FT).
It came after as one of Whitehall’s most senior legal advisers, Jonathan Jones, resigned following concerns that Downing Street may be trying to undermine parts of the EU Withdrawal Agreement, Whitehall sources have said.
This move means that six top civil servants have now resigned this year, including the heads of multiple departments and the cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill.
Labour’s shadow attorney general, Lord Charlie Falconer, has said that Jonathan Jones was an “impressive lawyer and very decent person
“This resignation indicates that senior government lawyers think that the government are about to break the law.”
“The government is trashing the best of the UK; we are a law abiding country and the government have some serious questions to answer.”
Mr Lewis was asked directly by a Tory MP to confirm that “nothing that is proposed in this legislation does or potentially might breach international obligations”.
To some shock, he replied: “Yes this does break international law in a very specific and limited way.”
The minister explained that it was because the government was trying to “disapply” EU law, saying that there are “clear precedents for the UK and other countries needing to consider their international obligations as circumstances change”.
This comes after Jim Harra, HMRC’s top civil servant, has said that his staff believe that between 5% and 10% of the furlough cash could have been handed out wrongly, either through deliberate fraud or through an error.
Theresa May, the former prime minister made her displeasure of the plans clear, asking how the UK could “reassure future international partners” that it “can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs”.
And Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister, tweeted: “Britain’s soft power and respected voice on the international stage comes from our duty & resolve to defend & uphold international laws.”
“This cannot change as we secure Brexit – otherwise our stance in holding China/Russia/Iran etc to account and upgrading the rules-based order is severely weakened.”