Justice secretary says he will resign if government breaks international law 'in an unacceptable way' over Brexit

Jimmy Nsubuga
·3-min read
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland returns to Downing Street in central London after attending Cabinet meeting temporarily held at the Foreign Office to comply with social distancing guidelines due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, on 08 September, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Justice secretary Robert Buckland has said he is prepared to resign. (Getty)

The justice secretary has said he will resign if the government breaks international law “in an unacceptable way” in regards to Brexit amid criticism over new legislation proposed last week.

Robert Buckland insisted he did not believe he would have to quit because the controversial UK Internal Market Bill was a “break the glass in emergency provision if we need it” and it probably won’t be used.

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis sparked fury on Tuesday when he admitted that changes in the legislation would breach international law in a “very specific and limited way”.

Boris Johnson is now under increasing pressure to back down on plans to override elements of his own Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, with former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair calling on Tory rebels to vote his bill down.

As justice secretary, Buckland has faced calls to explain how the plans are consistent with obligations under international law and was pressed on Sunday over whether he would resign.

“If I see the rule of law being broken in a way I find unacceptable then of course I will go,” he told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

“I don’t believe we’re going to get to that stage. I know in my mind what I have to do.

Read more: Boris Johnson: We expect everybody in this country to obey the law

“But the government collectively here also has a responsibility – we’ve got to resolve any conflict, that’s what we will do.”

Buckland insisted the government is “committed to the rule of law” and said its position was in accordance with “honourable traditions of the British state”.

Buckland’s Labour shadow, David Lammy, accused him of “putting career before country”, tweeting: “Each time the government breaks the law it’s a travesty.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons on 09 September, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The prime minister is now under increasing pressure to back down on plans to override the Withdrawal Agreement. (Getty)

Buckland’s defence came as Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said the UK was damaging its international reputation as he hit out as Johnson’s “spin” in denying Europe could impose a “blockade” between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Coveney dismissed the PM’s suggestion that the EU could prevent food products from being transported from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Read more: What Boris Johnson promised about 'oven-ready' Brexit deal before general election

“There is no blockade proposed,” Coveney told The Andrew Marr Show.

“That is the kind of inflammatory language coming from Number 10 which is spin and not the truth.”

Coveney said there would be just “limited checks” on goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland because there is an agreement to prevent the need of a physical border on the island of Ireland.