UK government faces ‘difficulty’ in replacing Lord Keen

UK government faces ‘difficulty’ in replacing Lord Keen

Lord Keen of Elie QC

Lord Keen of Elie QC has been praised for his honourable resignation this week by senior legal figures who have predicted that the UK government will have “difficulty” in replacing him.

Lord Keen left his post after a debacle that arose over a government bill. His erstwhile colleagues now face calls to do the same.

The UK Internal Market Bill allows ministers to “disapply” rules agreed over the goods that cross between Britain and Northern Ireland. Section 45(1) of the bill states that certain provisions “have effect notwithstanding any relevant international or domestic law with which they may be incompatible or inconsistent”.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis conceded that the bill would break international law in a “specific and limited way” raising a furore over the government’s contempt for international treaties.

Former European Court of Justice judge, Sir David Edward, told Scottish Legal News: “Richard Keen had a very distinguished career at the bar and his election as Dean of Faculty showed the respect in which he was held by his colleagues.

“The government will have difficulty in finding anyone of such distinction to replace him.”

Tory grandee and former foreign secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC, suggested Attorney General Suella Braverman follow suit.

He told SLN: “Lord Keen was right to resign. The Attorney-General should follow his example. Anyone offered his job should decline unless the Prime Minister agrees not to, deliberately, break the law.”

Dean of Faculty, Roddy Dunlop QC, commented: “I have said before, and say again, that the Faculty of Advocates doesn’t do politics. But as my predecessor seems to have tendered his resignation because of tension with his obligations [regarding] the rule of law, that seems to me to be in accordance with the finest traditions of the bar.”

Lord Garnier, former Conservative Solicitor General, also suggested the remaining law officers consider their positions.

“I have questioned why the law officers are still in office,” he told The Guardian.

“Richard Keen has struggled very hard to make the government behave. It has been an unequal struggle. I applaud him for what he has tried to do. He has done the right thing now in resigning. I hope that Richard Keen’s departure will make the AG, Solicitor General and Lord Chancellor look very carefully at their positions.”

In his resignation letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Lord Keen wrote: “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 Internal Markets 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.”

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