Posted on Mar 16, 2019
UK Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has updated his legal opinion on the Irish backstop to include a reference to the Vienna Convention, which allows for the termination of a treaty in the event of a “fundamental change of circumstances.”
Although the move was designed to win over Eurosceptic MPs to the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, a group of pro-Brexit lawyers, including the Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash, argued that Cox’s advice was “badly misconceived.”
They said in a statement, “Given the high burden that a state must meet to use it, and given the extreme reluctance of international courts and tribunals to accept it, [the Vienna Convention] supplies no assurance whatsoever that the UK could terminate the withdrawal agreement in a lawful manner.”
However, Cox’s updated legal advice was supported by Lord Pannick QC in letter.
The letter argued that if the UK and EU were unable to reach an agreement on the Northern Irish border in spite of “good faith negotiations” and “arbitration procedures,” and if the UK “were therefore to be faced (against its will) with a permanent backstop arrangement,” it would be “entitled to terminate the Withdrawal Agreement under Article 62 of the Vienna convention on the Law of Treaties.
There would have been ‘a fundamental change of circumstances’ in relation to ‘an essential basis of the consent of the parties to be bound by the treaty.’
As a matter of law, the UK would not be bound to remain permanently in a backstop arrangement.” He added, “Whether it would be wise politically to invoke Article 62 is a different matter.”
Elsewhere, the leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster, yesterday said, “We are working very hard with the Government to get a deal so we leave the EU with a deal.
"The important thing is Northern Ireland is not left behind. That we leave altogether, that we have that constitutional and economic integrity for the UK. And we have long said that Stormont should play a role in this. We wanted Stormont to have a meaningful say in Brexit and we still believe that to be the case.” Foster also told BBC Northern Ireland, “Nobody wants to leave without a deal and we want to make sure we get there.”
An opinion poll carried out by YouGov suggests that 43% of the public is opposed to an extension of Article 50, with 38% supporting the measure. Remain and Labour voters are more likely to support an extension, while Conservative and Leave voters are more likely to oppose. The poll also revealed that if there is an extension, 47% would prefer a shorter delay of “a few weeks or months,” while 33% would prefer a “significantly longer delay, of many months or a year.”
Elsewhere, a separate poll carried out by the Conservative Home website found that 40% of Conservative Party members think that MPs should vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, twice as many as before the legal changes to the backstop were secured.
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