'Legal advice on the Brexit deal, published reluctantly after MPs found the government in contempt of parliament, warns the terms of the Irish backstop could trap the UK in “protracted and repeated rounds of negotiations” in the years ahead.
The legal status of the arrangements for preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – and in particular, the UK’s ability to extricate itself – are at the heart of the political row about whether MPs should accept the prime minister’s deal.
In a six-page document finally released on Wednesday, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, concedes, as he did in parliament on Monday, that the UK could be trapped indefinitely in the backstop.
He stresses that the protocol setting out the backstop would “endure” even if negotiations between the two sides broke down. “In international law, the protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding arrangement took its place,” the document says.
Without a legal exit route, unless both sides agree to a satisfactory arrangement that makes the backstop unnecessary, he says the UK would have to rely on the arrangement being politically uncomfortable for the EU because it gives the UK market access without accepting single market rules in full.
However, he warns that disputes about whether the UK should be able to exit could become intractable.
“In the absence of a right of termination, there is a legal risk that the United Kingdom might become subject to protracted and repeating rounds of negotiations,” it concludes.
“This risk must be weighed against the political and economic imperative on both sides to reach an agreement that constitutes a politically stable and permanent basis for their future relationship. This is a political decision for the government.”'
Read more: Brexit legal advice warns of UK being trapped by Irish backstop
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