UK attorney general dashes May’s hopes for a win in Tuesday’s Brexit vote

EPA-EFE//NEIL HALL

British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox leaves 10 Downing Street following a meeting with the British Prime Minister in London, 12 March 2019.

UK attorney general dashes May’s hopes for a win in Tuesday’s Brexit vote


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British Prime Minister Theresa May‘s hopes for a positive outcome in Tuesday’s Brexit vote suffered a decisive blow when the UK’s Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, shot down the ‘binding changes’ that were agreed by May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg late on Monday, saying they failed to address the key sticking point of the deal – the insurance policy known as the Irish backstop between the UK and which ensures that no hard border would appear between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

According to the Legal Opinion on Joint Instrument and Unilateral Declaration concerning the Withdrawal Agreement, Cox said the risk of the UK remaining trapped in Irish backstop after Brexit remains unresolved and suggesting that the ‘take it or leave’ it package offered by Juncker is not enough to solve the issue.

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This leaves May’s hopes to win Tuesday’s meaningful vote against Eurosceptics very much in doubt. Cox’s opinion comes after the rejection of the package by the leader of the opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

“The Prime Minister’s negotiations have failed. This evening’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised Parliament,” said Corbyn late on Monday before Cox’s opinion went public. Corbyn added that May refused to find common ground for a deal that Parliament could support.

Cox’s opinion was the much-anticipated game-changer that would grant May the support of the Democratic Unionist Party’s MPs and Eurosceptic Conservatives.

For Brussels, Cox is seen as a veritable Pontius Pilate-like, having washed his hands of the matter before ordering the crucifixion of Christ, after having cast aside the agreement between May and Juncker before Tuesday’s House of Commons vote.

Brussels is not expected to provide with more clarifications and messages for London ahead of the crucial evening. In his three-page letter, Cox suggests that the new package does “reduce the risk that the United Kingdom could be indefinitely and involuntarily detained” in the backstop, but that “the legal risks remain unchanged.”

Without an alternative, the UK would have “no internationally lawful means of exiting” the backstop without the EU’s agreement.

Cox’s Legal Opinion caused the British pound to fall by 1% against the US dollar, almost immediately after the paper was made public, and wiped out the rally caused by May’s declared breakthrough on the issue.

The EU-27 ambassadors have been briefed by the EU chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier and the European Commission Secretary-General, Martin Selmayr, as they await the results of the vote result.  According to an EU source, the bloc’s offer on the extension of the Brexit deadline is limited to 24 May, otherwise, the UK would have to prepare to hold European elections.

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