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Home News Government chief legal officer resigns over PM's Brexit plans

Government chief legal officer resigns over PM’s Brexit plans

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One of the Government’s chief legal officers has resigned over Boris Johnson’s controversial Brexit plans.  

Lord Keen of Elie, the Advocate General for Scotland, is said to have quit because he is deeply unhappy with Mr Johnson’s proposals to tear up parts of the Brexit divorce deal which ministers have said will break international law.  

Lord Keen, who served as the UK Government‘s law officer for Scotland, tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister this morning. 

But it was not immediately accepted amid speculation that ministers were trying to persuade him to stay in his post. 

However, a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement issued this evening: ‘Lord Keen has resigned as Advocate General for Scotland. The Prime Minister thanks him for his service.’

The peer had told the Press and Journal newspaper this morning: ‘I tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister first thing this morning, I’ve not yet heard back from the Prime Minister.’  

Mr Johnson had appeared to confirm that ministers had battled to try to keep Lord Keen in the Government, telling the Liaison Committee this afternoon that ‘conversations on that matter are continuing’. 

Lord Keen’s decision to quit is likely to increase concerns among senior Conservatives who are dismayed at the idea that the UK could row back on its international treaty obligations. 

The peer was thrust into the spotlight in September last year when he represented the Government in its Supreme Court case over Mr Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament.  

Lord Keen clashed with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis this week over the legality of the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans. 

Lord Keen of Elie, the Advocate General for Scotland, has reportedly offered his resignation to the Prime Minister over the Government's Brexit plans

Lord Keen of Elie, the Advocate General for Scotland, has reportedly offered his resignation to the Prime Minister over the Government’s Brexit plans

Lord Keen: The Government’s go-to Brexit lawyer who lost Supreme Court battle over prorogation 

Lord Keen was thrust into the spotlight in September last year as he represented the Government during its bombshell Supreme Court case over Boris Johnson’s plans to prorogue Parliament. 

The Advocate General for Scotland had argued that the Prime Minister’s decision to suspend Parliament in the run up to Brexit was lawful and that judges should not interfere in political matters.

But his arguments were rejected by the court as it ruled unanimously that the prorogation of parliament was illegal. 

The case had been brought by arch-remainer Gina Miller, who was represented by Lord Pannick QC.

The arguments made by Lord Keen and Lord Pannick during the three day hearing gripped the nation as they battled it out in a court case which delivered a political earthquake. 

Lord Keen had previously represented the Government in the Article 50 Brexit court case in 2016/17.  

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Mr Lewis told MPs last week that the measures contained within the UK Internal Market Bill will ‘break international law in a very specific and limited way’.   

But yesterday Lord Keen said the Northern Ireland Secretary ‘answered the wrong question’. 

Speaking in the House of Lords, the peer said that the legislation does not ‘constitute a breach of international law or of the rule of law’.  

He said: ‘I have satisfied myself as to the correct legal position in this context.

‘It is my view that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland essentially answered the wrong question.’

But Mr Lewis hit back this morning as he gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee. 

He told MPs: ‘I have spoken to Lord Keen and I have to say… looking at the specific question my honourable friend asked me last week, he agrees the answer I gave was the correct answer.’ 

Mr Lewis reiterated that the Government’s official legal advice to ministers is that overriding key parts of the Brexit divorce deal would break international law. 

He maintained that his assertion in the Commons last week was ‘absolutely in line’ with the views of top lawyers advising the Government. 

The minister said: ‘I gave a very straight answer to Parliament last week in line with the Attorney General’s position.

‘My position is absolutely in line with the legal advice that the Attorney General put out.’

Lord Keen’s resignation comes one week after Sir Jonathan Jones quit as Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Profession. 

He reportedly resigned over Mr Johnson’s plans to depart from parts of the divorce accord struck with Brussels.      

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