Westminster update: Prime Minister resigns

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1. The Prime Minister resigns

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation on Thursday.

This happened after more than 50 Tory MPs left the government due to his conduct. And scores of backbenchers submitted votes of no confidence in his leadership.

On Wednesday evening, Johnson was met by several of the most senior members of his cabinet. Home Secretary Priti Patel and her new chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, told him to step down.

It follows a wave of ministerial resignations that saw Johnson lose around a quarter of his government.

The resignations followed the Prime Minister’s admission that he had knowledge of allegations of inappropriate behavior against former Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher in 2019 but appointed him anyway in February.

He delivered his resignation speech from a lectern outside 10 Downing Street. He has vowed to remain prime minister until a new leader of the Conservative party is elected, which could take until October.

In his speech, he said a timetable for the leadership election to choose his successor will be agreed and made public next week.

2. Resignations and cabinet reshuffles

The Prime Minister has been rocked by more than 50 government resignations this week, including a number of notable figures for us, such as:

  • Solicitor General Alex Chalk, and
  • Justice Ministers Victoria Atkins and James Cartlidge

Boris Johnson has confirmed his intention to remain Prime Minister until a new leader is chosen. To this end, he made appointments to vacant cabinet positions.

Although not all roles have been filled in government, notable appointments for us include:

  • Tom Pursglove as Minister of State in conjunction with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and
  • Edward Timpson as Solicitor General

Nadhim Zahawi was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer and former Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland was appointed Secretary of State for Wales.

However, several MPs are calling for the appointment of an interim Prime Minister. Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer also threatened a vote of no confidence if the Conservative Party did not replace him soon.

3. The Law Society testifies on the National Security Bill

We appeared before the Public Bill Committee considering the National Security Bill in the House of Commons on Thursday, July 7.

Dr. Rich Owen, chair of our Access to Justice Committee, was questioned by MPs about the bill.

Damien Hinds (curator) asked:

  • on the foreign influence registration regime that the government has committed to adding to the bill, and
  • whether the Law Society has any concerns or hopes for them

Owen explained how we support the program, but clarified that there should be an exemption for legal privilege to protect access to justice and the rule of law.

He explained to MPs why this protection is important and why it is necessary so that people can access legal advice.

Owen was pressed on whether there is a risk that legal-client privilege protections could create loopholes in the system.

Owen highlighted the success of the Australian model. He noted that the privilege would not apply to criminal activities. He added that the Home Office made it clear during its consultation that it would protect human rights and not interfere with legitimate business through the scheme.

The bill will continue its committee stage in the House of Commons over the next few weeks.

4. The Law Society cited in the trade agreement with Australia

We were quoted five times in a Report of the International Trade Committee released on Wednesday July 6 as part of its inquiry into the UK’s new trade deal with Australia.

Our response to the consultation was benchmarked against issues ranging from the provision of legal services to mobility.

The report quoted us on the importance of legal services as a business enabler, noting that:

“Nearly all international business transactions require the services of attorneys from two or more jurisdictions, and this can be done most effectively when foreign and domestic businesses can work together.”

They also pointed out that the provisions of the agreement remove British business people from Australia’s list of skilled migrant professions. This removed the uncertainty over visas that we had identified as a “significant challenge for trade in legal services”.

We continue to work to improve members’ access to international legal markets and seek opportunities to influence the UK government on matters in this area.

Coming

We will work closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries: