Johnson Bows to Rebels’ Demand as Law Chief Quits: Brexit Update

Boris Johnson reached a deal with rebels in his own party opposed to his plan to rip up part of the Brexit divorce deal, while a top government legal adviser quit over whether the legislation breaks international law.

Johnson will give MPs a veto over whether the government will exercise the most controversial powers contained in the Internal Market Bill, bowing to the demand of a group of Conservative rebels led by Bob Neill.

Meanwhile, Richard Keen quit as advocate general for Scotland after denying the legislation breaks international law, directly contradicting another minister who said that it does.

Key Developments:

  • Johnson says the EU isn’t negotiating in good faith
  • Prime Minister promises “formidable” tariffs on some products if no free-trade agreement is signed
  • Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis won’t confirm if the U.K. will abide by any arbitration

Johnson Reaches Deal with Rebels (6.20 p.m.)

The government will propose two amendments to the bill, the first giving the House of Commons a veto over any move to break international law, and a second limiting the opportunity for judges to challenge the decision, according to a statement from Johnson’s office and a group of Conservative lawmakers.

The plan “provides a clearer, more explicit democratic mandate for the use of these powers, and also provides more legal certainty,” according to the statement.

Brussels Bemused by Johnson’s Actions (6 p.m.)

Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, told EU ambassadors that Johnson’s move came as a surprise, and he isn’t clear what the prime minister’s endgame is, according to an account of the meeting seen by Bloomberg.

“The U.K. could be preparing for a no deal, or are after negotiating leverage,” the note reads. It goes on to say that some recent British statements, including allegations that the EU was planning a “food blockade” or negotiating with a “gun on the table,” were “dangerous and absurd” and highlighted “nervousness on the U.K. side.”

The EU isn’t yet in a position to approve the import of animal products from the U.K. because Britain hasn’t communicated how its phytosanitary regime will work, according to the briefing. On the so-called level competitive playing field -- one of the biggest obstacles to an accord -- Britain hasn’t provided guarantees in two sectors, transport and energy, as well as on its future carbon-pricing plans, the document said.

Top Law Officer Quits (5:35 p.m.)

One of the government’s most senior law officers quit amid a row over whether Johnson’s controversial Brexit legislation breaks international law.

Richard Keen had served as Advocate General for Scotland for the past five years. On Tuesday, he contradicted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’s assertion that the Internal Market Bill would break international law.

“The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland essentially answered the wrong question,” Keen told the House of Lords. The bill deals with a “contingent situation” in which the EU would be in breach of its treaty obligations, he said.

“The provisions of the bill are entirely limited in their intent and effect and fall within the rule of law and the requirements of international law,” Keen said. “I certainly don’t anticipate that those provisions would be abused. Indeed, if they were, I cannot foresee that either House would contemplate passing the relevant regulations. But if they did, I would certainly have to consider my position as a law officer.”

Johnson’s office said the prime minister thanked him for his service to the government.

Johnson: EU Not Acting in Good Faith (4:45p.m.)

When asked by a panel of MPs if the EU is negotiating in good faith, Johnson said: “I don’t believe they are.”

He said the EU would face “formidable” tariffs on some products if no free-trade agreement is signed. “All the more reason why everybody should want to agree a zero tariff, zero quota agreement,” Johnson said.

Top Law Officer’s Job Hangs in Balance (4:30 p.m.)

The fate of one of the government’s most senior law officers hangs in the balance, with Boris Johnson unable to confirm if Richard Keen has resigned. (See 12:05 p.m.)

“Conversations on that matter are still continuing,” Johnson replied when asked by a panel of lawmakers if the Advocate General for Scotland was still in his post. “As I understand it, it’s still to be resolved.”

Keen on Tuesday contradicted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’s assertion that the Internal Market Bill will break international law.

Johnson Reaches a Deal (3:30 p.m.)

The prime minister managed to head off a group of rebel Conservative MPs by promising more oversight for lawmakers of the Internal Market Bill, according to the BBC.

The group, led by Bob Neill, had submitted an amendment that would bar the government from overriding the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement without parliamentary support.

A Foretaste of the Disruption to Come? (1:20 p.m.)

The main road linking the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel to London has been snarled up for much of the morning after police briefly implemented checks on all vehicles and passengers using the channel ports.

With traffic backing up, Operation Stack has been activated, forcing trucks to park up on the motorway. It’s a reminder of how easily small delays at the border can snowball rapidly.

BBC: Resignation Not Accepted (1:15 p.m.)

The government is trying to dissuade Advocate General for Scotland Richard Keen from resigning, the BBC’s Glenn Campbell reports.

Sky: Top Legal Official to Leave His Post (12:05 p.m.)

Richard Keen, the Advocate General for Scotland, is stepping down after he contradicted Lewis’s claim that the Internal Market Bill will break international law, Sky News’s deputy political editor, Sam Coates, tweets.

Downing Street spokesman Jamie Davies said: “I’ve seen the speculation but I don’t have anything further on that now.”

U.K. Won’t Confirm it Will Abide by Arbitration (11:50 a.m.)

When asked if the government would abide in future by the outcome of the U.K.-EU arbitration mechanism, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis declined to confirm that it would.

“To get into a hypothetical about what would happen is an unhelpful and dangerous place to be,” he told a committee of MPs.

That prompted a sarcastic response from Tory MP Simon Hoare, who said that there are many people in jail who don’t like the ruling of the judge but have to abide by it anyway.

Von Der Leyen: Chances of Deal Fading (10:45 a.m.)

“With every day that passes, the chances of a timely agreement do start to fade,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told EU lawmakers in Brussels. In a keynote address to the European Parliament, the president of the bloc’s executive arm warned that the Withdrawal Agreement “cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied.”

Von der Leyen quoted former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she lambasted the U.K.’s intention to backpedal on what was agreed last year: “Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world, and bad for any future Treaty on trade,” she said.

Lewis: Deal Threat Sanctioned by Lawyers (10:35 a.m.)

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he was following the advice of government lawyers when he made his statement last week that the U.K. is prepared to break international law “in a specific and limited way” to renege on the Brexit divorce deal.

As he appeared before members of the House of Commons Northern Ireland Committee, Lewis was criticized over his comments on the controversial Internal Market Bill.

Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley asked where Lewis’s “Damascene conversion” had come from, while Robert Goodwill -- a member of Lewis’s own party -- asked sarcastically if the statement Lewis read to the Commons had been put into his hand by Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s key adviser.

Buckland: Lawbreaking Bill Will Pass (Earlier)

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he has been in talks with Tory rebels over the Internal Market Bill and has already made some inroads with them over their opposition to the controversial legislation. Boris Johnson has a big enough Parliamentary majority to see his measures through, he said, and the EU should recognize that.

Asked if he would resign if the U.K. breaks international law by unilaterally abandoning parts of the Withdrawal Agreement, Buckland told BBC radio his decision would depend on the circumstances. If the EU acts in good faith “and we capriciously and egregiously say ‘No, thank you, and goodbye,’ I think that causes me a problem,” he said.

Key Freight IT System Won’t Be Ready (Earlier)

The key IT system designed to avert border chaos when Britain finally separates from the European Union at the end of the year won’t be fully tested and ready in time, according to Britain’s biggest logistics trade group.

Government officials told Logistics U.K. that the Smart Freight System -- designed to avoid snarl-ups at key channel ports such as Dover -- will only go into beta testing in mid-December and won’t be completed until April, the lobby group said in a statement on Tuesday.

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