Brexit news: Government finally publishes full legal advice as Theresa May accused of 'inadvertently misleading' parliament

This from my colleague Benjamin Kentish, who has been poring through the Brexit legal advice the government has just been forced to publish:

The legal advice published by the government today does not tell us much we didn’t already know, but it spells out in black and white exactly why so many Brexiteers will vote against Theresa May’s deal next week.

The advice, provided by attorney general Geoffrey Cox to the Cabinet and published after Parliament demanded its release, focuses on the Northern Ireland backstop – by far the most contentious part of the agreement.

In a passage that will be seized upon by Brexiteers, Cox said that, despite both the UK government and the EU insisting the backstop is designed to be temporary, it could “endure indefinitely” until an alternative is agreed.
This is because the UK does not have the right to withdraw from the mechanism unilaterally.

The withdrawal agreement, Cox said, “does not provide for a mechanism that is likely to enable the UK lawfully to exit the UK wide customs union without a subsequent agreement”.

What’s more, the attorney general suggested the EU could try to ditch the UK-wide customs union element of the backstop and keep only Northern Ireland under EU tariffs and regulations.

That is anathema to the DUP, which is opposing the proposed deal on the grounds that it could see Northern Ireland treated differently to the rest of the UK. If talks over a future agreement break down, Cox said, the EU could submit a request “that the GB elements of the customs union should fall away, leaving only NI in the EU customs territory”. However, this would almost certainly be vetoed by the UK and would have to go to arbitration.

It’s not hard to see why ministers tried so hard to stop the legal advice being published. It confirms many MPs worst fears about Ms May’s deal and makes it even more likely the draft agreement will be voted down by the Commons next Tuesday.

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