Boris Johnson’s top Scots law adviser has quit over the UK Government’s plan to ditch the Brexit divorce deal, raising difficult questions for the Scottish Tory party.
Lord Keen of Elie, the Advocate General for Scotland, was deeply unhappy after ministers admitted the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill would breach international law.
“I tendered my resignation to the prime minister first thing this morning”, he told us.
His offer to quit came after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis appeared to directly contradict his comments in the House of Lords.
Well, would you look at that – straight after the #LiaisonCommittee we get a Number 10 statement:
'Lord Keen has resigned as Advocate General for Scotland. The Prime Minister thanks him for his service'
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) September 16, 2020
On Tuesday, Lord Keen told peers that the Bill did not “constitute a breach of international law or of the rule of law”.
He said Mr Lewis had “answered the wrong question” when he said the proposals to override elements of the Brexit divorce deal relating to Northern Ireland would break international law in a “specific and limited way”.
However, giving evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland Committee on Wednesday, Mr Lewis said he stood by his original answer which was “absolutely in line” with the legal advice issued by Attorney General Suella Braverman.
“I gave a very straight answer to Parliament last week in line with the Attorney General’s position,” he said.
“I have spoken to Lord Keen. He has looked at the specific question I was asked last week. He has agreed with me that the answer I gave was correct to the question I was given.”
Following some confusion on Wednesday afternoon as to whether Downing Street had actually accepted Lord Keen’s resignation, it was eventually confirmed in a statement.
“Lord Keen has resigned as Advocate General for Scotland. The prime minister thanks him for his service”, a Number 10 spokesman said.
The peer’s departure comes after the head of the Government Legal Department, Sir Jonathan Jones, quit last week as the Bill was announced.
Lord Falconer, Labour’s shadow attorney general, said Lord Keen’s resignation was a “farce that shames the entire government.”
He said: “The voice of the law officers has been muted, and their authority is completely shot. This has been a farce that shames the entire government.”
The SNP said the Scottish Tories now needed to explain why they were still backing the controversial proposals.
The party’s justice spokeswoman said: “I am pleased that Lord Keen has finally decided to do the right thing and offer his resignation.
“No Scottish law officer could possibly reconcile the lack of regard Boris Johnson and his government has for the rule of law with his or her obligation as an officer of the Scottish Courts.”
She added: “It leaves Douglas Ross and the six spineless Scottish Tory MPs who voted for the bill totally exposed and in an utterly untenable position.
“By voting for this, Scottish Tory MPs are doing anything but standing up for Scotland.”
Mr Johnson has insisted the Bill is intended to provide a legal “safety net” to protect the peace process and ensure the EU could not impose tariffs on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.