Attorney General defends controversial powers to override Brexit deal

Suella Braverman faced calls to resign but accused opponents of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill of being unpatriotic.

Attorney General Suella Braverman
Attorney General Suella Braverman

The Government’s top legal adviser has faced calls to resign as she defended controversial Brexit legislation which enables the UK to break international law.

Attorney General Suella Braverman told MPs it is “entirely proper, entirely constitutional and lawful in domestic law” to enact legislation that may operate in breach of international law or treaty obligations.

She also insisted she is “proud” to support the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and suggested those MPs who voted against it are unpatriotic.

The Bill gives the Government the power to breach the Brexit divorce deal brokered with Brussels last year.

Attorney General Suella Braverman responds to questions in the Commons (PA)

Ministers have argued such powers to override the Withdrawal Agreement are needed to protect the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Critics of the measures include Conservative former prime minister Theresa May, who warned the controversial powers are not necessary and will cause “untold damage” to the UK and threaten the future of the Union.

Speaking in the Commons, Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne asked: “So it doesn’t break any law, does it?”

Ms Braverman replied: “Consideration of and voting for this Bill does not constitute a breach of the law.

“However, there are powers in the Bill which if and when exercised will operate to disapply treaty obligations at the international law level – in particular, article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement and articles 5 and 10 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“Parliamentary supremacy means it is entirely constitutional and proper for Parliament to enact legislation even if it breaches international treaty obligations.”

SNP attorney general spokesman Stuart McDonald accused Ms Braverman of “putting her political loyalties, her Brexit fanaticism ahead of her loyalty to the rule of law, when it should be the other way round”.

SNP MP Stuart McDonald (PA)

Mr McDonald added: “That is why she should resign.

“Doesn’t this whole episode also illustrate why future attorney generals should be lawyers and not party politicians?

“It’s all right for her to trash her own reputation but not the reputation of the office of Attorney General.”

Ms Braverman replied: “It’s entirely proper, it’s entirely constitutional and lawful in domestic law to enact legislation that may operate in breach of international law or treaty obligations.

“It’s a pretty basic principle of law and if the honourable gentleman is having trouble understanding, I’d be very happy to sit down and explain it to him.”

For Labour, shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves earlier highlighted criticism from former prime ministers, including Mrs May.

Ms Reeves asked: “Are they all wrong?”

Ms Braverman replied: “The question of whether in law the Government can act in this way is very simply answered – yes it can.

“The question of whether it should is one for political debate, not legal argument.

“(Ms Reeves) may not like that answer but it is one founded on a robust legal footing.”

Shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves (PA)

Ms Reeves countered: “As a barrister she knows full well the role of the Government law officers, they must uphold the rule of law without fear or favour.

“And as her own political hero Margaret Thatcher once said: ‘In order to be considered a truly free country, we must have an abiding respect for the rule of law’.

“But there’s a universal view among those who look to the Attorney General to defend the rule of law that she has betrayed them.

“So could she tell the House what she has done to defend the rule of law in the face of the Government’s breach?”

Ms Braverman said she would take a “less emotional approach”, adding: “I’m extremely proud to be supporting this Bill.

“It protects our country and safeguards the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

“(Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer) called for patriotism this week, but their opposition to this Bill is anything but patriotic.

“How she can call herself an MP who sits in the United Kingdom Parliament and at the same time vote against a Bill that defends the unity of our country, maintains peace in Northern Ireland and enables the United Kingdom, our country, her country to thrive is not only illogical but does a grave disservice to the nation’s interests.”

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