The UK government has taken legal advice from a US-born lawyer working for Donald Trump’s administration to build the case for unilaterally tearing up trade arrangements for Northern Ireland after Brexit.
Senior Whitehall insiders say the government has “excluded” its team of outside legal advisers for the previous Northern Ireland deal. They added that it wanted to establish a case in international law for UK legislation to overturn part of the deal signed in 2019 to prevent the island of Ireland from restoring a north-south trade border.
UK Attorney General Suella Braverman report Legally endorse the government’s proposed unilateral action, citing the need to defend the higher-priority Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which ended the conflict in Northern Ireland, which Johnson’s government believes is being threatened.
Financial Times disclose In November, the government was seeking new legal advice – described by Whitehall insiders as “opinion shopping” – to back its legislation to “close” parts of the agreement in UK law.
The ministers have hired Thomas D. Grant, an international lawyer at Cambridge University, a political appointee in the Trump administration’s State Department to oversee U.S. national security strategy, three people familiar with the matter said.
Grant, who has been on sabbatical from Cambridge since taking office in Washington, D.C., list “Sovereignty” and “State Immunity” in his legitimate interests on the Wolfson College Cambridge website. Grant did not respond to a request for comment.
At the height of the Brexit debate in June 2019, Grant also co-authored booklet The Politeia think tank, along with leading Brexiter lawyer Martin Howe QC, believes the UK should opt for a “no deal” Brexit rather than a deal that would have Northern Ireland legally linked to the EU.
Among the arguments presented in the pamphlet, according to Politeia believes there is “no insurmountable problem” with the Irish border as it is already a VAT and excise border.
Braverman’s new legal advice, first reported in era, Arguing that the UK government has a legal right to defend the Good Friday Agreement, which it says is “fundamental” and actually trumps it.
The suggestion caused unease in some corners of Whitehall. Insiders said it was described as a “puppet opinion” to appease the pro-Brexit Conservative backbenchers and demonstrate Johnson’s government’s resolve to confront Brussels over a deal.
The threat to cancel the agreement echoes the UK Internal Market Act 2020, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government introduced legislation to unilaterally reject the agreement because it admitted at the time a “limited” breach of international law.
The admission sparked an outcry, including from some Conservative backbenchers and prominent peers. It also sparked the resignation of Sir Jonathan Jones, then head of the UK government’s legal department.
Jones told the Financial Times this week that the government’s renewed threat to tear up the deal was “wrong and counterproductive”, warning that any such move would damage Britain’s international standing.
“Why would other countries want to deal with the UK, to hear our views on the international rule of law, or to trust that we will keep our promises in the future?” he asked.
Downing Street said the government continued to listen to advice from a wide range of legal sources, but declined to comment specifically on Braverman’s views on the Northern Ireland deal.
A spokesman said: “Not commenting on whether the Attorney General is providing legal advice or the content of any advice is long-standing government policy and is acceptable to all governments.”
Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo