Britain’s attorney general on Monday defended a Brexit deal struck with the European Union as guaranteeing a “peaceful and orderly” withdrawal from the bloc despite containing “unattractive” and “unsatisfactory” elements.
Speaking in parliament following a request from MPs and ahead of a key vote on the deal next week, Geoffrey Cox said it represented “a sensible compromise”.
Many MPs have criticised the so-called “backstop” arrangement for keeping the Irish border open regardless of the outcome of future trade negotiations with the EU.
In such an eventuality, the terms of the deal state that Britain as a whole would remain in a customs partnership with the EU but Northern Ireland alone would remain more closely aligned with European single market rules.
“We are indefinitely committed to it if it came into force,” Cox said, adding that there was “no unilateral right for either party to terminate this arrangement”.
Responding to criticism of this part of the deal, he said: “I would prefer to have seen a unilateral right of termination in this backstop. I would have preferred to have seen a clause to terminate if negotiations broke down.
“It has unattractive elements, unsatisfactory elements for us,” he said. But he added: “I do not believe that we are likely to be entrapped in it permanently.“
Cox spoke after Oliver Robbins, the government’s chief Europe adviser who has spearheaded negotiations in Brussels, told a parliamentary committee that the backstop was “a slightly uncomfortable necessity for both sides“.
“Ministers asked us to look at a whole range of options for how to bring the backstop to an end, and so we did,” Robbins said, following newspaper reports about his opposition.
“But, what we went into the negotiation with in the end was a text that delivered the termination clause very much as it is laid out here,” Robbins told the committee.
MPs are due to vote on the Brexit deal on December 11, ahead of the country’s planned departure from the bloc in March.
The main opposition Labour Party has called for the government to publish the full legal advice it has received on the deal so MPs can make a more informed choice.