SNP silent as Scottish Government defends UK minister's rights to keep Northern Ireland protocol legal advice secret

The SNP has failed to answer whether the party believes the UK Government should publish the legal advice it has received around the plans to unilaterally scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol.

This is despite the party’s previous stance around the legal advice connected to Brexit on which, led by Westminster party leader Ian Blackford, the SNP voted in favour of publication.

The SNP did not answer the question on whether its MPs wished to read or scrutinise the advice, which the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, has reportedly received that provides a legal justification for the UK Government’s plans to scrap the protocol.

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It comes as Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats called for the UK Government to publish the advice.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss set out plans for legislation to amend the protocol to address concerns about the implementation of the deal on Tuesday.

It comes as the DUP said they would not return to Stormont until the protocol was fixed, with the UK Government moving to act unilaterally to scrap parts of the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Asked whether the Scottish Government would want to see the legal advice provided to UK ministers published, the First Minister’s official spokesperson said that would not be needed.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss has set out plans for legislation to amend the protocol to address concerns about the implementation of the deal. Picture: PA

The spokesperson said: "I don’t think we necessarily need to see that published to understand that what the UK Government are doing in terms of ripping up the protocol, or aspects of the protocol, is a retrograde step in terms of relations in Northern Ireland and relations between the UK, Ireland, and the EU.

"I don’t we need to see that to understand the substantive point, which is the risk of an all-out trade war between the UK and the EU over an international treaty, which Boris Johnson and his Government co-wrote and signed and now appear intent on ripping up.”

Asked whether the Government would be happy with the legal advice being kept secret and away from public scrutiny, the spokesperson defended the right of the UK Government to keep the advice secret.

He said: “The same protocols regarding legal advice apply to all governments.

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"The idea that legal advice, whether it is to the UK Government or to us or to any government just gets published in whole, willy-nilly, there you go, well, sorry, despite how it’s sometimes characterised that has never ever been the case for any UK or Scottish government and I’m sure further afield in other countries it is the same.”

The comments come after Nicola Sturgeon said she would “carefully consider” the ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner that aspects of her Government’s legal advice on a second independence referendum should be made public.

The SNP/Green government has until June 10 to publish the advice after a transparency battle with The Scotsman.

Scottish Labour's constitution spokesperson Sarah Boyack called on both governments to publish the relevant legal advice.

She said: “Scotland has two bad governments that are intent on hiding behind spin and secrecy.

“In both of these cases, the legal advice has been commissioned by the Government on important issues where we need transparency and should therefore be available for public scrutiny.”

Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP, called on the UK Government to disclose the advice.

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He said: “The problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol are fundamentally problems of politics rather than the law. We know, however, that this Government is going to use the law as a fig leaf excuse to muddy the waters. You cannot withhold the central legal advice on such a politically-charged issue.

“If the Attorney General had made a point to remain a strictly apolitical figure, then she might have some justification in her position. But this is someone who has blithely justified personal law-breaking from the Prime Minister and indeed defending international law-breaking publicly within her role. To suggest now that she has no duty to public disclosure on this political decision simply does not hold water.

“Conservative ministers are embarking on a course of action which could result in a trade war. The public has a right to know on what legal basis they are taking this foolish decision. It’s quite simple – if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.”

Asked to comment, the UK Government highlighted comments from Ms Truss to BBC Radio Four in which she said it was “very clear” the legislation to scrap the protocol was legal and that a “legal statement” would be published outlining the legal position.

The SNP did not respond to requests for comment.

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