Matt Hancock 'comfortable' with government breaking international law in 'limited and specific way'

Speaking after cabinet minister Brandon Lewis conceded the proposals unveiled this week were unlawful in a “very specific and limited way” – provoking outrage – the health secretary defended the government’s approach. His comments also came after the government’s top lawyer resigned his post over reports No 10 would backtrack on the Brexit agreement in the event of talks over a future trading agreement with Brussels collapsing. Pressed on whether he was comfortable with a minister saying the UK is willing to break international law, Mr Hancock replied: “I am.”

He told Times Radio: “The primary international obligation around this issue is to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland and I very much hope that we conclude a deal before the end of the transition period and I think that we will and it’s in everybody’s interest to do so as we did last time. “But I also understand why ministers have chosen to prioritise at the absolute top of that the importance of protecting the peace process in Northern Ireland. In response to his comments, Labour shadow cabinet minister Jonathan Reynolds posted on Twitter: “Pirate Britain”.

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Speaking as the government outlined strict new national laws on social gatherings – to curb the spread of coronavirus – Mr Hancock also replied “no” when asked whether people could break the rules in a “very limited and specific way”.

He said: “This is incredibly important for keeping people safe.

It’s incredibly important for stopping the spread and therefore protecting education, protecting work.” In a separate interview, the cabinet minister insisted the public must follow the rules despite the government’s willingness to flout international law on Brexit. “Abiding by these rules is absolutely vital to protect life.

We’ve seen the increase in the number of cases sadly in the last few days. We’ve seen that across Europe there’s a second wave that many countries have experienced,” he told Sky News. He added: “Some of those countries have then got that second wave under control.

If you look at what’s happened in Belgium they saw an increase and then they’ve brought it down, whereas in France and Spain that just hasn’t happened. “On the question of the Northern Ireland Protocol the Government has a number of international obligations and the primary amongst those in this context is about protecting the peace process. “In the case of coronavirus everybody understands how important it is that we together keep this under control, we can’t do it individually because of the nature of the disease.

So, yes, it is incredibly important that everybody follows these new rules and we’ll be bringing in strict enforcement.”