A Conservative minister has sensationally quit over Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans, as the prime minister struggles to quell a growing rebellion on his own benches.
The news that Lord Keen had offered his resignation came just hours before the prime minister was due to be grilled by MPs on proposals to tear up part of the UK’s agreement with the European Union.
Mr Johnson is facing a revolt after Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, told MPs the government’s Internal Market Bill, currently going through the Commons, does break international law “in a limited and specific way”.
Lord Keen, a member of the government frontbench in the House of Lords, told Scottish newspaper The Press and Journal: “I tendered my resignation to the prime minister first thing this morning, I’ve not yet heard back from the prime minister.”
No 10 has now confirmed he has quit.
Lord Keen of Elie, had been the Advocate General for Scotland, the UK government’s law officer for Scotland.
On Tuesday Lord Keen told peers that the controversial bill did not “constitute a breach of international law or of the rule of law”.
He claimed that Mr Lewis had “answered the wrong question” in his comments to MPs.
But within hours Mr Lewis had reiterated his position, telling MPs that he had given “a very straight answer to Parliament last week in line with the Attorney General’s position”.
Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, has also suggested he could resign if the law was broken in a way he found “unacceptable”, while Tobias Ellwood, the Tory MP and chair of the Commons Defence committee has compared No 10’s strategy to “Nixonian madman theory”.
The legislation has also come under fire from all five living former prime ministers, including Mr Johnson’s immediate predecessors Theresa May and David Cameron, as well as Brexit-backing Tory grandees like former leader Michael Howard and ex-chancellor Norman Lamont.
Earlier this week the government suffered a blow as a Tory MP Rehman Chishti resigned as the prime minister’s special envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief in opposition to the clauses in the Bill.
In an attempt to quell the growing rebellion, Mr Johnson has accused the EU of underhand tactics and said the clauses are necessary to protect the status of Northern Ireland within the UK.
He told MPs this week the bill “should be welcomed by everyone who cares about the sovereignty and integrity of our United Kingdom”
Mr Johnson did admit he said he understood the concerns of those who felt unease over the measures, which he had no desire to use. They were an “insurance policy” which would never be invoked if there is a future trade deal with the EU, he said.
But there are growing signs Tory MPs preparing to rebel against the bill next week could be offered concessions.