Geoffrey Cox: May's deal could leave us trapped in backstop

Geoffrey Cox

Geoffrey Cox addresses the Commons

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Theresa May's last-minute Brexit agreements "reduce the risk" that the UK could be trapped indefinitely in the backstop, but do not remove it altogether, the Attorney General has told the House of Commons.

Geoffrey Cox added in his legal advice on Theresa May's Strasbourg agreement that the “legal risk remains unchanged” that the UK would have no legal means of exiting the EU without an agreement.

Mr Cox's advice was issued the morning after Mrs May's dash to Strasbourg to finalise a deal with European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, which she said would deliver "legally-binding" reassurances for MPs to ensure the Irish backstop cannot be permanent.



Mr Cox wrote: “I now consider that the legally binding provisions of the Joint Instrument and the content of the Unilateral Declaration reduce the risk that the United Kingdom could be indefinitely and involuntarily detained within the Protocol's provisions at least in so far as that situation had been brought about by the bad faith or want of best endeavours of the EU.”

He added: “However, the legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol's arrangements, save by agreement.”

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer responded to Geoffrey Cox's legal advice describing the government's strategy as being in "tatters".

He tweeted a picture of the document with the last section highlighted in green, which states that the "the legal risk remains unchanged".

Alongside the picture, Mr Starmer said: "Attorney General confirms that there have been no significant changes to the Withdrawal Agreement despite the legal documents that were agreed last night.

"The government's strategy is now in tatters."