Boris Johnson is not going to let the European Union “push us around” and is right to threaten to override parts of the Brexit deal, the Government’s chief law officer has said.
Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, backed the Prime Minister to get changes to the deal, which means the UK-EU border is in the Irish Sea, which will be good for Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Speaking to the Telegraph on Sunday, Mrs Braverman said: “Boris stood up to the EU last year and we got a good deal. I am really confident we are not going to let the EU push Northern Ireland around.
“We will do whatever it takes to ensure that we get a good settlement for Northern Ireland, and a good settlement for the Union.”
Mrs Braverman backed Mr Johnson – who threatened last week to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a move which could impose a hard border on the island of Ireland – unless the EU negotiated.
She said: “The Prime Minister has made it really clear that we’re going to do everything that we can, whether that’s legislatively, or indeed if it comes to it, invoking Article 16… to ensure that there’s no barrier in the Irish Sea.”
Mrs Braverman urged the EU to apply the same rules at the border as the UK to ensure fair play.
She added: “It is about getting an equivalent interpretation of the rules, and we can’t have one party taking disproportionately excessive interpretation or application of rules, and one party being forced to accept that.”
A report from the Centre for Brexit Policy on Sunday calls for the UK and EU to agree that both sides will enforce the other’s rules at the border.
This proposal known as ‘Mutual Enforcement’ would commit each side to enforce the rules of the other with respect to trade across the border.
The news came as it emerged that Joe Biden’s administration is monitoring the Northern Ireland border situation closely, but is reluctant to get “mixed up” in the aftermath of Brexit.
The European Union’s recent blunder triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol in a row over vaccines, threatening to effectively create a border on the island of Ireland, set off alarm bells in the US state department.
There was no public comment on the issue at the time from the US administration or Mr Biden, who has made statements on the subject in the past, and is deeply personally committed to the Good Friday Agreement.
However, a former senior Democrat US state department official, with links to the administration, told The Telegraph: “Whatever the EU or the UK does [in relation to Northern Ireland] the administration wants to tread carefully, wait and see what develops, and not take a hard position.
“It’s a tough one because you have the UK, Ireland and the EU, and you can’t win. With Biden, though, there is this sense of closeness with Ireland. But his officials never wanted to get mixed up in Brexit; you only get into trouble.”
He added: “It is a tightrope for him. Obviously, he wants to have a good relationship with the EU and the UK. At the same time there’s a considerable Irish American constituency here. It’s a tightrope he could fall off.”
Suella Braverman: Why I had to change the law just to get my maternity pay
Most expectant mothers slip away from the office in the weeks before they are due to give birth as they contemplate months of maternity leave.
Suella Braverman is a bit different. The Attorney General has had to change the law just to guarantee that her employer – HM Government – will pay her salary while she takes her time off with her new baby.
Mrs Braverman, who is expecting her second child at the beginning of next month, was surprised to discover that there was no way in law for the Government to pay her while she was on maternity leave.
Instead, she was faced with having to resign, to allow her boss Boris Johnson to find someone to do her job, and then hope that the Prime Minister would reappoint her on her return to the office.
The result is the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill – dubbed ‘Suella’s Law’ or the ‘Braverman Bill’ in Whitehall – which will bring the treatment of Cabinet ministers who have babies, into the 21st century.
Mr Johnson, who became the first Prime Minister to become a father again 10 Downing Street last year, has led the charge to modernise the law.
“The choice between taking leave to recover from childbirth and care for a new-born child, or resigning from office, is not acceptable in modern times,” he thundered in his statement to MPs last week.
Speaking to the Telegraph in a Zoom call from her home on Friday night, Mrs Braverman appeared to be wearing the weight of all this fuss lightly. “This is obviously a landmark moment for the Government,” she says.
“I’m very honoured to be making a little bit of history as the first Cabinet minister to have a baby whilst in office and to take maternity leave, and I’m incredibly grateful to the Prime Minister for seeing the need and leading the change.”
Mrs Braverman admits she had not expected to have to change the law to win her right to six months’ maternity leave on full pay when like other expectant mothers, she had to “tell your boss you’re pregnant after 12 weeks”.
She adds: “This particular legal issue hadn’t come across my desk as Attorney General. It quickly became apparent that there was a gap in the law.”
Civil servants are now in a race against time to pass the law through both Houses of Parliament before Mrs Braverman gives birth to her baby daughter, a sister to her 18 month old son, George.
Mrs Braverman’s last day in the office is Feb 26 and she is due to give birth in the following week. “That is one of the reasons for moving very quickly,” she says.
“We have a limited window in which to provide the legal basis for this to happen. I’m a bit of a catalyst for it but the willingness and the commitment to regularise this anomaly has definitely been there for many years.”
Labour has made clear that it will not oppose the law change.
More junior ministers have been able to take maternity leave for years. However that right has never been given to Cabinet ministers.
“What this law does is it allows more flexibility and scope for an extra payment to be made to a senior minister who goes on leave so it could apply to any cabinet level minister,” she says.
“The issue here is that there’s a lot of work, and to do justice to the role of Attorney General, there needs to be someone who is able to work full time and be there as the Government’s chief legal adviser.
“And so, you know, doing both at the same time, that somehow juggling it would not have done justice to the role, would it have done justice to me having a new baby?”
There is still more work to do on the Braverman Bill, which has not extended the same privilege to male Cabinet ministers if they became fathers.
Mrs Braverman says: “The Prime Minister has made clear that we are committing to looking at paternity leave, and other forms of leave, and we will be reporting on it.”
Mrs Braverman – the first in her family to go to university straight from school – wants the law change to send out a clear message to other women with high powered jobs.
“I hope this sends a message to young women who want to have a young family, that having a young family or starting a family is not out of bounds for them. If they want to work in senior roles,” she says.
“I personally am someone who really loves working and I need to work to be happy. And I love being a mum, and I’m really very pleased that the two now aren’t mutually exclusive. And it is legal to be both.
“This will be a fascinating story to tell my daughter one day [about] exactly what went on in Parliament to allow her to have some time with her mummy.”
Mrs Braverman, 40, pays tribute to the team around her at home – her “very hands on” husband Rael, a manager with car firm Mercedes, who “helps a lot with childcare”, as well as assorted grandparents.
Despite more domestic upheaval, work is not drying up for Mrs Braverman, an out and out Brexiteer who refused to back Theresa May’s Brexit Bill on any of the three votes in the Commons in 2019.
Mrs Braverman, as the Government’s chief law officer, backs Mr Johnson’s threat to sort out the vexed Northern Ireland Protocol which is so damaging businesses in the Province.
She says: “The Prime Minister has made it really clear that we’re going to do everything that we can, whether that’s legislatively or indeed if it comes to it invoking Article 16 of the protocol to ensure that there’s no barrier in the Irish Sea.”
She adds: “Boris stood up to the EU last year and we got a good deal. I am really confident we are not going to let the EU push us around.”
On Tuesday, she is in the Court of Appeal appealing another unduly lenient sentence in a rape case.
Her office is more and more busy from referrals about soft sentences she says. While she says 99 percent of judges’ sentences are correct, a greater “awareness of the right to challenge a sentence” has led to the increase.
Longer term, she is working on an end to end review of rape cases to deal with “a very big disparity between the number of complaints of rape and the number of successful convictions”.
Mrs Braverman adds: “We need to always strike the right balance that people who are falsely accused of rape, don’t have to go through the trauma of being falsely accused.”
Soon though Mrs Braverman will turn her mind to the really important stuff – like what to name to give her new baby daughter.
“We have not decided on a name yet,” she says, before adding: “Maybe the Latin origins of legislation – ‘Legisla’?”
Her colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg, the classicist Leader of the House of Commons, would most definitely approve.