The government’s most senior lawyer is to quit his post over plans which could modify the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
It is understood Sir Jonathan Jones, permanent secretary to the Government Legal Department, was unhappy with a new bill to be unveiled on Wednesday.
He has resigned and will leave his post before his five-year term was due to end next April.
He is the sixth senior civil servant to announce his exit this year.
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said Sir Jonathan believed the plans went too far in breaching the government’s obligations under international law.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office confirmed Sir Jonathan had resigned but did not comment further.
The Financial Times, which first reported the story, linked his departure to “suggestions that Boris Johnson is trying to row back on parts of last year’s Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland”.
The newspaper added people “close to Sir Jonathan said he was ‘very unhappy’ about the decision to overwrite parts of the Northern Ireland protocol”.
The resignation comes as the UK government is due to unveil an Internal Market Bill that could affect post-Brexit customs and trade rules in Northern Ireland.
Under the UK’s exit deal, Northern Ireland is due to stay part of the EU’s single market for goods in a bid to avoid creating a hard border with the Irish Republic.
In parallel with talks over a post-Brexit trade deal, the UK and EU are negotiating the precise nature of new customs checks that will be required.
International law breach
On Tuesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the bill would provide the UK with a “safety net” in case the talks to iron out border arrangements fail.
He told MPs the bill would break international law in a “very specific and limited way” by giving UK ministers the power to override EU law in “tightly defined circumstances” if border negotiations broke down.
But he insisted the UK’s “leading priority” was to try to work out the application of the protocol through negotiation with the EU.
Whether you loathe the government’s abrasive style or love its ruthlessness, far from seeking a peaceful conclusion to Brexit, for No 10 there are plenty of fights still to have.
And that may mean accelerating the number of top civil servants who are cleared out – or clear off of their own volition.
Six permanent secretaries – who head government departments – have gone now.
Given the importance of the principle of the rule of law, one former permanent secretary told me Jonathan Jones’ departure is “absolutely massive, by far the most important yet”.
And few at Westminster believe there won’t be more to come.
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