The changes secured by Theresa May to the Brexit package do not alter the “fundamental legal effect” of the Irish backstop, according to panel of three senior lawyers.
A legal opinion drafted by Lord Anderson QC, Jason Coppel QC and Sean Aughey said the measure would not allow the UK to “terminate the backstop” without the agreement of the European Union.
The opinion, commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, said there was “no basis” for Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to change his legal advice on the indefinite nature of the backstop.
Former terror laws watchdog Lord Anderson and his colleagues said: “It is crystal clear that the measures do not alter the fundamental legal effect of the backstop, as previously and correctly explained by the Attorney General.
“The backstop will endure indefinitely, unless and until superseded by another agreement, save in the extreme and unlikely event that in future negotiations the EU acts in bad faith in rejecting the UK’s demands.”
Examining the documents agreed by the Prime Minister and the EU during her late-night visit to Strasbourg, the lawyers said the “furthest they go is to reiterate the possibility that the backstop might be suspended in extreme circumstances of bad faith on the part of the EU which are highly unlikely to be demonstrated”.
“This was already apparent from the Withdrawal Agreement and had been acknowledged in the Attorney General’s previous legal advice.”
Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who backs a second referendum, said: “I have had the chance to look at the document produced last night and I’m quite clear in my mind it does not allow the UK to terminate the backstop in the event of as breakdown in negotiation; it does not allow the UK to terminate the backstop at a time of its own choosing.
“The advice issued today from Lord Anderson, Jason Coppel and Sean Aughey reinforces my view.
“In Parliament today I will continue to argue that the agreement does not bear any relationship to what we were offered in the last referendum of 2016.
“It is significantly different and therefore it should go back to the people – they have a right to vote on this and decide whether to go ahead.”