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 Sunday Telegraph - - Politics - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL ED­I­TOR

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.

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