Top legal civil servant quits 'amid row over Brexit'

8 September 2020, 14:32

Sir Jonathan Jones has resigned amid a reported row with Downing Street
Sir Jonathan Jones has resigned amid a reported row with Downing Street. Picture: UK Government

By Joe Cook

The UK’s top legal civil servant has resigned following a row with Downing Street over plans for Brexit, according to reports.

The Attorney General’s Office confirmed that Sir Jonathan Jones has resigned as the permanent secretary of the Government Legal Department, but would not comment further.

Sir Jonathan quit due to a dispute with Downing Street over suggestions it will challenge parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, The Financial Times reported.

Boris Johnson is reportedly drawing up legislation to override parts of the agreement in relation to Northern Ireland unpicking parts of the withdrawal agreement, which was signed in January.

Speaking with two people familiar with discussions around Sir Jonathan’s resignation, the Financial Times wrote that questions were raised over whether these plans could be a breach of ministerial code, which obliges ministers to follow the law, including international law.

Reacting to an urgent question in the House of Commons, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis conceded that this move “does break international law in a very specific and limited way”.

But he stressed to MPs that this was only as a backstop and that the Government is “fully committed to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol”.

"We have already taken many practical steps to do so,” Mr Lewis said.

"The protocol was designed to maintain the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, the gains of the peace process, and to protect the interests of all people in Northern Ireland and that is what this Government will do and will continue to deliver upon."

However, former prime minister Theresa May and others raised concerns in the Commons about the impact on the UK’s international reputation.

She asked: "The Government is now changing the operation of that agreement. Given that, how can the Government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?"

Sir Jonathan’s is the sixth resignation of a senior civil servant this year amid growing tensions between officials and Downing Street as Mr Johnson and his top aide, Dominic Cummings, plan an overhaul of Whitehall.

Mr Cummings has reportedly told aides a "hard rain is coming" for the Civil Service amid plans to reshape Whitehall.