LONDON – The United Kingdom’s government published reluctantly on Wednesday the full legal advice it had received from the attorney general on Brexit, which warns that the government could be trapped indefinitely by negotiations on the terms of the so-called Irish backstop.
The legal advice was released only after an unprecedented alliance of opposition parties in the House of Commons on Tuesday found the minority executive of Prime Minister Theresa May in contempt of parliament for refusing to disclose the full document.
“In the absence of a right of termination, there is a legal risk that the UK might become subject to protracted and repeating rounds of negotiations,” Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said in his initially-redacted advice.
According to Cox’s six-page document, the proposed backstop deal with the European Union – intended to prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK’s constituent country of Northern Ireland – would endure even if Brexit negotiations between the two parties were to break down.
“In international law, the protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding arrangement took its place,” the document added.
The backstop is a precautionary measure that would allow the entire UK to temporarily remain in a single customs territory with the EU, allowing both sides more time to sort out their post-withdrawal relationship.
Pro-Brexit Conservative members of Parliament have expressed their skepticism on the arrangement because they say it could leave the UK trapped indefinitely – as Cox’s advice suggests – in a cycle of negotiations, without allowing for the country’s unilateral withdrawal from the protocol.