Amal Clooney: Lawyer quits UK envoy post over Boris Johnson’s ‘lamentable’ Brexit bill

Media freedoms envoy says Internal Market Bill ‘threatens to embolden autocratic regimes … with devastating consequences all over the world’

Andy Gregory
Friday 18 September 2020 20:10 BST
Amal Clooney has quit as UK special envoy on media freedom
Amal Clooney has quit as UK special envoy on media freedom (PA)

Amal Clooney has quit her role as UK special envoy in protest over Boris Johnson’s government’s “lamentable” decision to break international law with its new Brexit bill.

The prominent human rights lawyer submitted her resignation as special envoy on media freedom to foreign secretary Dominic Raab on Friday.

“Very sadly, it has become untenable for me, as special envoy, to urge other states to respect and enforce international obligations while the UK declares that it does not intend to do so itself,” her letter stated.

Ms Clooney warned the government’s Internal Market Bill “threatens to embolden autocratic regimes that violate international law with devastating consequences all over the world”.

And, citing the president of the Bar Council of England and Wales, she cautioned that undermining the rule of law that “this country is built on … will fatally puncture people’s faith in our justice system”.

Significant Tory opposition to the Internal Market Bill grew after Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis made the rare admission that it would breach Mr Johnson’s own Brexit withdrawal agreement with Brussels in a “specific and limited way”.

But after a bruising day in the Commons for the prime minister, who insisted offending measures in the legislation were necessary to prevent an EU blockade in the Irish Sea but that he had “absolutely no desire” to use them, MPs voted the bill through parliament for a second reading by 77 votes.

While the prime minister has reached a compromise with some Tory MPs for an amendment providing additional parliamentary scrutiny, rebellion brews still, and it was not enough to prevent the government’s advocate general for Scotland, Lord Keen, from tendering his resignation on Thursday.

The head of the government’s legal department, Sir Jonathan Jones, has also quit over the plans to renege on the Brexit withdrawal agreement. 

Following suit on Friday, Ms Clooney wrote: “Although the government has suggested that the violation of international law would be ‘specific and limited’, it is lamentable for the UK to be speaking of its intention to violate an international treaty signed by the prime minister less than a year ago.

 “Out of respect for the professional working relationship I have developed with you and your senior colleagues working on human rights, I deferred writing this letter until I had had a chance to discuss this matter with you directly. 

“But having now done so and received no assurance that any change of position is imminent, I have no alternative but to resign from my position.” 

Ms Clooney, a British-Lebanese barrister, was originally appointed to the role of special envoy by the then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2019. 

In her letter to Mr Raab, she said she was “disappointed” to have to give up the position having always been proud of the UK's reputation as “a champion of the international legal order and of the culture of fair play”. 

It followed warnings from members of the US Congress that Westminster risked jeopardising a future UK-US trade deal unless it abandoned the “disturbing” plans.

Responding to Ms Clooney’s resignation, Labour’s shadow media minister Chris Matheson said: “It is humiliating that the UK's special envoy on media freedom has felt unable to continue in her role.

“This shows that by threatening to break international law instead of getting Brexit done as we were promised, the government is trashing the UK's reputation around the world.” 

A Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “We'd like to thank Amal Clooney for all her work as special envoy to defend journalists and promote media freedom around the world.”

Additional reporting by PA

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