Fury over bill
Johnson reaches deal with rebels as top lawyer quits
Unhappy: Lord Keen (pic: Wikimedia Commons)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night agreed a last minute compromise with rebels threatening to scupper his Internal Market Bill – just hours after Scotland’s top law officer resigned.
Lord Keen of Elie QC, the advocate general, tendered his resignation to Mr Johnson on Wednesday morning over concern that the bill will override the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
The UK Internal Market Bill, which cleared its first parliamentary hurdle to becoming law earlier this week, has been heavily criticised in both Westminster and Brussels.
The EU has threatened legal action and said it could threaten ongoing trade talks on a future EU-UK relationship.
In his resignation letter, Lord Keen, a former Scottish Conservative Party chairman, said: “Over the past week I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider to be my obligations as a Law Officer with your policy intentions with respect to the UKIM Bill.
“I have endeavoured to identify a respectable argument for the provisions at clauses 42 to 45 of the Bill but it is now clear that this will not meet your policy intentions.
“In these circumstances I consider that it is my duty to tender my resignation from your Government.
“Your government faces challenges on a number of fronts and I fear that the UKIM Bill in its present form will not make these any easier. I wish you well in dealing with these issues.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Lord Keen has resigned as Advocate General for Scotland. The prime minister thanks him for his service.”
In response to unrest among about 30 Tory rebels, the government will table an amendment to the bill, giving MPs a vote before it can use powers which would breach the deal brokered with Brussels last year.
The government has already seen the departure of the head of the government Legal Department, Sir Jonathan Jones, who quit last week as the Bill was announced.
Labour’s shadow attorney general Lord Falconer said: “This has been a week of chaos from the government’s own law officers, whose legal advice has been renounced by its own Government and the voice of the law officers has been muted, and their authority is completely shot.
“This has been a farce that shames the entire government.”
SNP justice and home affairs spokeswoman Joanna Cherry said: “I am pleased that Lord Keen has 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.
“It shows, yet again, that this Tory government cannot be trusted.
“The UK Government will 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.”
Regarding the compromise agreement between the government and Tory critics of the Bill, shadow business secretary and former Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “This does not fix the problem of breaking the law, damaging our reputation around the world and damaging our future prosperity.
“We need a trade deal with Europe and that is what we were promised at the election. Breaking our own word and the treaty the prime minister signed puts that at risk.
“On the basis of tonight’s statement, this Bill still breaks international law, reopens the Brexit debate and Labour will continue to oppose it.”
Richard Keen QC was appointed Advocate General for Scotland in May 2015. He also became the spokesperson for Ministry of Justice business in the House of Lords in July 2016.
He attended The King’s School, Rochester and Dollar Academy, before going on to study law at the University of Edinburgh.
In November 2013 he was appointed chairman of the Scottish Conservative party, succeeding David Mundell MP in this role on 1 January 2014.
Keen remained as chairman until his appointment as Advocate General for Scotland in May 2015 when he subsequently resigned.
He served as the Lords Spokesperson for the Home Office from April until July 2016.
Career outside politics
After being admitted to the faculty, Richard was a standing junior counsel to the DTI in Scotland from 1986-1993, and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1993. He has served as Chairman of the Appeal Committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (2000-2004) and as Chairman of the Police Appeals Tribunal.
He has been regularly instructed in the Commercial Court, in the Inner House (the Court of Appeal in Scotland) and in the UK Supreme Court in a range of Commercial and Public Law cases. He was elected as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates (leader of the Scottish Bar) in 2007 and served as Dean until 2014.
He became a member of the Bar of England and Wales in 2009, and was elected a Bencher of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, in 2011.
Lord Keen lives in Edinburgh and is married with two children, a son and a daughter.