RICHARD Keen has resigned as the government’s Advocate General, with reports suggesting he has found it “increasingly difficult to reconcile government plans to change EU exit deal with the law”.
He’s been under pressure to hand in his notice ever since last week’s admission by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis that the Internal Market Bill, which allows ministers to override the Brexit agreement with the EU, breaches “international law in a very specific and limited way”.
Jonathan Jones, the government’s most senior lawyer has already resigned over the legislation.
Keen attempted to defend the government yesterday, arguing that Lewis had “essentially answered the wrong question”.
However, the Northern Ireland secretary disagreed, saying this morning that his answer was “absolutely in line” with legal advice.
He handed his resignation in on Wednesday morning, but it wasn’t immediately accepted, with Downing Street keen to talk him out of it.
Johnson was asked if Keen had resigned on Wednesday afternoon.
He told MPs “conversations on that matter are still continuing.”
In a statement released just before 6pm, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “Lord Keen has resigned as Advocate General for Scotland. The Prime Minister thanks him for his service.”
The SNP’s Justice and Home Affairs spokesperson, Joanna Cherry said she was pleased Keen had “finally decided to do the right thing and offer his resignation.”
“No Scottish law officer could possibly reconcile the lack of regard Boris Johnson and his government has for the rule of law with his or her obligation as an officer of the Scottish Courts,” she added.
She said the UK government would “find it hard to find any member of the Scottish Bar to replace Lord Keen as Advocate General as long as it is intent on breaking international law.”
Keen had been the chairman of the Scottish Conservatives until being appointed as Advocate General in 2015.
The QC has represented the UK government in court in a number of high-profile cases, including over the prorogation of parliament in 2019 and the “Article 50” Brexit case in 2016-17
Many of Keen’s critics have pointed in recent days to a speech he made to the Public Law Group on the rule of law and role of law officers, back in June 2018.
The peer said it was “the duty of the law officers is to ensure that the government acts lawfully at all times”.
He added: “If the rule of law is disrespected, and falls into disrepute, elected governments will not be able to govern effectively – any government is simply shooting itself in the foot if it undermines the rule of law.”