Attorney General joins Brexit war cabinet after ministers’ demands
Senior MPs insist they will not sign off on backstop deal without the advice of their chief legal adviser
THE Government’s chief legal adviser has been given a permanent seat on Theresa May’s Brexit war cabinet after ministers insisted they would not sign off on a deal without his advice.
Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General and a Leave-supporting QC, has been quietly added as a 12th member of the Cabinet sub-committee designed to oversee the UK’s negotiations with Brussels.
The move comes as Mrs May is believed to be closing in on a deal with the European Union over an insurance plan, or “backstop”, intended to avoid border infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
However, Brussels is refusing to agree to an end date or mechanism that would allow the UK to pull out of the arrangement, meaning that an agreement is unlikely to be reached this week. Senior ministers have insisted a “get-out clause” is necessary to ensure the country isn’t left permanently “trapped” in the EU customs union.
Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Environment The human rights watchdog has waded into a row over the appearance of a controversial pro-Brexit businessman on the BBC.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission warned against “shutting down the views of those we don’t agree with”, as the corporation faced criticism over a decision to interview Arron Banks on The Andrew Marr Show today.
The National Crime Agency is investigating Mr Banks after the Electoral Commission said
Secretary, are among ministers who have indicated that they would not sign off on proposals for a backstop until they have seen advice from Mr Cox.
A senior Tory questioned why a legal assessment was not given to ministers before an outline agreement on the backstop was reached in December.
A new list of Cabinet committees and their members was filed by the Government in the Commons library on Oct 25.
The previous list, issued in February, comprised 11 members of the committee. Mr Cox’s predecessor, Jeremy Wright, was not included. But the latest version lists the QC as a member.
A senior Tory said: “The Cabinet expect written legal advice from Geoffrey before they are asked to back a deal. there were grounds to suspect he was “not the true source” of £8m given to the unofficial Leave. EU campaign.
David Isaac, the chairman of the commission, said: “Freedom of speech is crucial to our democracy. We need respectful and open debate to build tolerance and understanding in our society rather than shutting down the views of those we don’t agree with.”
Mr Banks has denied receiving any foreign donation and welcomed the investigation.
Hopefully, this is a sign that the PM is listening.”
But the same figure raised concerns that Cabinet ministers had not been sent minutes of a key meeting of the strategy committee last month at which members made clear that they would require formal legal advice before signing off on revised proposals.
Claiming it was “almost certain” that a future prime minister would initiate a public inquiry into the handling of Brexit, the source said: “If the finance committee of a company were meeting and making decisions without it being recorded, people would ask serious questions.”
Meanwhile, Lord Lilley, the former trade secretary, has written to Mr Cox to question why the Government has accepted the EU’s insistence that a backstop can legally be agreed before the UK’s departure next March.
Pointing out that Mrs May had accepted the EU’s insistence that it could not legally agree a trade agreement with the UK until it leaves, he stated: “How can the EU be legally able to conclude an agreement with the UK about future trading relationships between the EU and UK across the Irish border, until we cease to be an EU member? Surely therefore the Irish backstop cannot be in the withdrawal agreement nor become part of a legally binding treaty until after 29th March 2019?”
In response, a government spokesman said: “The Government has committed to including a legally operative backstop for Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement. This will provide a temporary bridge to our future relationship in the unlikely event it is not in place by the end of [the] implementation period.”
It comes as a pro-Brexit former Tory minister insists the Canada-style free trade agreement advocated by Boris Johnson and David Davis “would not get enough votes in the Commons”.
In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph, written with Frank Field, the former Labour minister, Andrew Murrison backs the “Norway for Now” plan under which the UK would temporarily continue membership of the European Economic Area and customs union while it strikes a deal with Brussels.