The British Government’s Law Officer for Scotland, Lord Keen, has offered his resignation to the Prime Minister.
BBC Scotland understands that the Advocate General has found it difficult to reconcile plans to override the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the law.
BBC Scotland’s political chief Glenn Campbell said there appeared to be an attempt to persuade the law enforcement officer to remain in the post.
The government’s top lawyer – Sir Jonathan Jones, permanent secretary of the government’s legal department – has already resigned due to the legislation that passed his first parliamentary test on Monday.
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The series focuses on the UK Government’s Internal Markets Act, which Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said MPs could “break international law” by overriding the withdrawal agreement signed with the EU.
Lord Keen subsequently argued in the House of Lords that his view was that “the bill does not in itself constitute a violation of international law or of the rule of law.”
He said Mr Lewis “had essentially answered the wrong question”.
But Northern Ireland’s secretary has since doubled, saying his statement was a “very straightforward response”, which was “entirely in line with legal advice”.
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said Lord Keen’s resignation had been rumored for several days and eventually happened “after Brandon Lewis contradicted him this morning”.
Richard Keen had been chairman of the Scottish Conservatives until he was appointed Advocate General in 2015 – when he was also appointed as the child of life as Baron Keen of Elie.
QC has represented the UK Government in court in a number of high-profile cases, including over Parliament’s regulations in 2019 and the Brexit case “Article 50” in 2016-17.
What is the bill on internal markets?
The bill sets out rules for the operation of the UK single market – trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – following the end of the Brexit transition period in January.
It is suggested:
- No new controls on goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK
- To give British ministers the power to change or “reject” rules on the movement of goods, which will enter into force on 1 January if the UK and the EU are unable to reach an alternative agreement through a trade agreement
- Powers to override previously agreed State aid obligations – State aid to undertakings
The bill explicitly states that these powers must apply even if they are incompatible with international law.
Ministers say legislation is needed to prevent “damage” to tariffs on goods traveling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement fail.
But some senior conservatives – including former Prime Minister John Major – have warned that it risks undermining the UK’s reputation as a maintainer of international law.
Legislation has also proved controversial with decentralized administrations, which are concerned about how Britain’s ‘single market’ will function after Brexit and who will set the rules and standards.