The Hunt for the New Advocate General

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland was sat on the steps of the throne in the Lords yesterday as Ken Clarke was introduced to the Chamber. He looked uneasy when the clerk read the letters patent out describing the new member as an “expert in the law”. There are serious doubts the Government will be able to look to the current Red Benches for a new Scottish Advocate General…

One keen senior Scottish Tory tells Guido “it’s a hugely prestigious role for an advocate so there won’t be a shortage of applicants!” Guido understands there is a chronic shortage of applicants. 

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry is waltzing around the corridors of power telling anyone who will listen no one in Edinburgh will accept it. It’s expected that in the short term this is probably true. Lord Keen, after all, resigned and he had been Chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party from 2014-15. The Government is in no rush, and will likely not be recruiting until the country is past Internal Market Bill contentions. The only name currently doing the rounds is Gavin MacColl QC. Don’t expect an announcement of fast-track peerage soon…

mdi-timer 18 September 2020 @ 17:00 18 Sep 2020 @ 17:00 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Lord Keen Resigns

It’s understood Lord Keen has offered his resignation to the PM after the confusion he caused over the Internal Market Bill over the last 12 hours. BBC Scotland reports his resignation has not yet been accepted and efforts are being made to persuade the Advocate General to retract it. No. 10 are pretty Keen the Lord stays…

UPDATE 17:37: The PM accepts Lord Keen’s resignation. Number 10 say “Lord Keen has resigned as Advocate General for Scotland. The Prime Minister thanks him for his service.”

mdi-timer 16 September 2020 @ 13:31 16 Sep 2020 @ 13:31 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Brandon Lewis Claims Lord Keen Now Backs Him

Following Guido’s story this morning Brandon Lewis has claimed before the Northern Ireland Select Committee that Lord Keen has since reviewed his claim in the Lords that Lewis “answered the wrong question” in admitting the Internal Market Bill breaks international law, and now accepts this was not the case. Leaving Priti out alone on a limb…

“I’ve spoken to Lord Keen and looking at the specific question [Bob Neill] asked me last week, he agrees the answer I gave was the correct answer… now he’s aware of the actual specific question I was asked by my honourable friend last week he is in agreement with me that I was correct…”

Leaving aside the question of whether Lord Keen will have to apologise for misleading the House, he’s now backing Brandon. Guido can’t account for why a member of the Queen’s Council managed to cause so much confusion, especially given – as he reported this morning – Lord Keen was one of the legal experts who helped draft the specific phrase Lewis used at the dispatch box last week.

The only question remaining is why Priti Patel’s line yesterday morning was so different from Brandon Lewis’s – and now Lord Keen’s. Was it that Priti was making a different specific point? All the players are keen to de-escalate…

mdi-timer 16 September 2020 @ 11:12 16 Sep 2020 @ 11:12 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Government Sides with Brandon Lewis: Priti was “Confused” and Lord Keen is “Hypocritical”

The row in SW1 about which minister is right and wrong over the law-breaking of the Internal Market Bill drags on today. After Guido’s piece yesterday pointing out the interpretation rift between Ministers, government sources have become more explicit in their backing of Brandon Lewis over perceived communications hiccups by the Home Secretary and Scottish Advocate General.

A source close to Brandon tells Guido “every single word of” Lewis’s comments to the House were “agreed by all three law officers – including Lord Keen”; specifying the Bill itself doesn’t break international law however the Northern Ireland clauses would if enacted. The new line is that Priti was “confused” on her media round yesterday morning…

Asked for an explanation of Lord Keen, the Scottish Advocate General’s, denial that the bill breaks international law in front of the Lords’ EU Committee yesterday, a government source angrily said the committee appearance showed “hypocrisy from Lord Keen, who agreed to every single word of the government’s legal statement published last week by the Attorney General”. The government claims had Brandon Lewis said anything else in the Commons, he would have been accused of lying to the house. The new question therefore is will Lord Keen have to return to the Lords to correct the record? 

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What is the Government Line on Breaching International Law?

On the Kay Burley Show this morning, Priti Patel appeared to contradict Brandon Lewis’ famous admission that the Internal Market Bill “does break international law in a specific and limited way”. The Home Secretary instead claimed that “we are absolutely not doing that”. To compound matters, the Internal Market Bill rebel Bob Neill, who originally asked Brandon the question, that started this mess, yesterday himself intervened on Ed Miliband to argue the Bill itself does not break international law until the provisions “come into force”. Got that?

Yesterday Boris insisted that “the passing of this Bill does not constitute the exercise of these powers”, emphasising that the powers that if exercised could breach international law would only be used as a very last resort. So it appears the Government is now saying Brandon Lewis mis-spoke last week…

To add yet more confusion into the mix, Advocate General for Scotland Lord Keen advanced what Guido revealed was the ERG analysis of the situation, telling the Lords’ EU committee that in the event the powers were exercised, the UK would “not be acting in breach of the treaties” if they followed what the UK perceived to be a breach of good faith by the EU. One thing’s for certain – the Government does not agree with last week’s viral line “this does break international law”.

UPDATE:  Government spokesman gets in touch:

“Last week the Attorney General wrote to Select Committee chairs to set out the government’s legal position on the Withdrawal Agreement and the provisions in the UKIM Bill. This position has not changed. This is about creating a legal safety net and taking the powers in reserve whereby Minister can act to guarantee the integrity of the UK and protect the peace process.”

Guido can’t get anyone to tell me if Brandon or Priti are right. Logically they can’t both be right.

mdi-timer 15 September 2020 @ 15:42 15 Sep 2020 @ 15:42 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Government Spokesman Shouts “Arse” at Despatch Box

The BBC’s Esther Webber brings us the moment government spokesman Lord Keen knocks over a glass of water at the despatch box and shouts “arse“. Good value for that pay rise

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