The UK government official for Scotland, Lord Keane, has offered his resignation to the prime minister.
The BBC Scotland understands that the Advocate General has found it difficult to reconcile plans to replace the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the law.
The BBC’s chief political correspondent in Scotland, Glenn Campbell, said there had been an attempt to persuade the law enforcement officer to stay in office.
The government’s top lawyer – Sir Jonathan Jones, permanent secretary of the government’s legal department – has already resigned over legislation that passed its first parliamentary test on Monday.
- The prime minister’s Brexit bill removes the first hurdle in the Commons
The rift focuses on the British government’s internal markets bill, which Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told lawmakers he could “violate international law” by replacing the withdrawal agreement signed with the EU.
Lord Keane later argued in the House of Lords that he said “the bill does not violate international law or the rule of law”.
He said Mr Lewis “essentially answered the wrong question”.
But the Northern Ireland secretary has since doubled in, saying his statement is a “very straightforward answer” that is “fully in line” with legal advice.
BBC political editor Laura Queensberg said Lord Keane’s resignation had been talked about for days and ultimately happened “after Brandon Lewis contradicted him this morning”.
Richard Keane was chairman of the Scottish Conservatives until his appointment as Advocate General in 2015, when he was also elected a peer as Baron Keane of Ellie.
QC has represented the UK government in court in a number of high-profile cases, including the parliamentary prorogation in 2019 and the Brexit Article 50 case in 2016-17.
What is the Internal Markets Bill?
The bill lays down rules for the functioning of the UK’s internal market – trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – after the end of the transitional period for Brexit in January.
- There are no new checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK
- Empowering British ministers to change or ‘not apply’ rules on the movement of goods, which will take effect on 1 January if the United Kingdom and the EU cannot reach an alternative agreement through a trade deal
- Powers to cancel pre-agreed state aid obligations – state business support
The bill explicitly states that these powers must be exercised even if they are incompatible with international law.
Ministers say legislation is needed to prevent “damaging” tariffs on goods traveling from the rest of Britain to Northern Ireland if negotiations with the EU on a free trade agreement fail.
But some senior conservatives – including former Prime Minister John Major – warn that they risk undermining the UK’s reputation as a defender of international law.
The legislation has also been controversial with delegated administrations, which are concerned about how the UK’s “internal market” will work after Brexit and who will set regulations and standards.