Keir Starmer pulls apart May’s deal, saying “nothing has changed”

Sir Keir Starmer has confirmed suspicions aired in the Commons last night that nothing has fundamentally changed in relation to the backstop in the withdrawal agreement.

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary waved a fat wad of legal papers in the chambers last night and asked: “Is a single word of the Withdrawal Agreement different now to the document that was agreed on November 25?”

Having studied the documents, he confirmed this morning that there is unlikely to be changes sufficient to enable the Attorney General to change the central plank of his December legal advice.

In that advice, the Attorney General said that under international law the backstop “would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement takes its place in whole or in part.”

Under Article 178 of the Withdrawal Agreement, if either side is found to have acted in breach of the good faith or best endeavours obligation, the strongest remedy is “temporary suspension” of parts of the Agreement to force the other side back to the negotiating table.

But the Withdrawal Agreement does not include a mechanism for unilateral exit from – or termination of – the backstop (or any other part of the Agreement) even where bad faith is made out.

As Sir Keir notes, “turning the content of the 14 January letter from Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Juncker into a joint interpretative declaration does not change that.

“Nor in my view does anything else agreed last night.”

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