UK Government Brexit legal advice confirms MPs’ fears

keir starmer

Yanis Varoufakis once said: Brexit is like Hotel California: ‘You can check out any time you like but you can’t really leave’

Britain might struggle to leave the EU bloc, due to the complexity of the negotiations and the inflexibility of EU institutions, Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister, has warned.

Varoufakis, known as a fierce Eurozone critic, compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles.

“You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can’t really leave,” 

Today we see that prediction become a reality. 

Legal advice provided to the Cabinet on Theresa May’s Brexit deal has warned it could result in the UK becoming stuck for many years in “protracted and repeating rounds of negotiations” with no lawful power to exit.

And it made clear that Brussels could apply to an arbitration panel for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU customs area while the rest of the UK left.

The six-page document by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox was released to MPs a day after the House of Commons found the Government in contempt of Parliament for trying to keep it secret.

The Northern Ireland backstop contained within the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement would “endure indefinitely” unless something is negotiated to replace it, the U.K. government’s top law officer told Cabinet ministers, according to legal advice released Wednesday.

The backstop is an arrangement intended to prevent the need for a hard border in Northern Ireland.

Many MPs have expressed fears that the U.K. would not be able to leave without, in effect, the permission of the EU.

The advice from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox appears to confirm that.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said the advice reveals the ‘central weaknesses’ in the government’s Brexit deal.

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said:

“Having reviewed the attorney-general’s legal advice, it’s obvious why this needed to be placed in the public domain.

“All week we have heard from government ministers that releasing this information could harm the national interest. Nothing of the sort. All this advice reveals is the central weaknesses in the government’s deal.”


“Despite statements in the protocol [the backstop] that it is not intended to be permanent, and the clear intention of the parties that it should be replaced by alternative, permanent arrangements, in international law the protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place,” he wrote.

The government had argued that the full advice should not be published because it would set a bad precedent, but MPs voted Tuesday to force the government’s hand. The vote held ministers in contempt of parliament for its failure to publish the document.

Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer tweeted, “All week we have heard from Government ministers that releasing this information could harm the national interest. Nothing of the sort. All this advice reveals is the central weaknesses in the Government’s deal. It is unthinkable that the Government tried to keep this information from Parliament — and indeed the public — before next week’s vote.”

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