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Britain's justice minister says EU deal could be reversed
[LONDON] Britain's deal with the European Union on new membership terms could be undone by the European Court of Justice despite support from all member states, British Justice Secretary Michael Gove - a leading member of the "Leave"campaign - told the BBC.
Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office rejected the argument, saying the deal was an irreversible decision in international law that required the European court to take it into account.
Gove, considered a policy heavyweight in the British cabinet, is a close friend and political ally of Cameron, but the men are on opposite sides of the debate ahead of a June 23 referendum on whether to stay in or withdraw from the EU.
Gove does not have the popular appeal of London Mayor Boris Johnson, the most prominent member of the ruling Conservative Party to come out in favour of a "Brexit", but as Justice Secretary Gove's views on the legal issues will carry weight.
"The facts are that the European Court of Justice is not bound by this agreement until treaties are changed and we don't know when that will be," Gove told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Wednesday morning.
He said Cameron was "absolutely right that this is a deal between 28 nations all of whom believe it" and said that the prime minister had "not been misleading anyone".
"I do think it's important that people also realise that the European Court of Justice stands above every nation state, and ultimately it will decide on the basis of the treaties and this deal is not yet in the treaties," Gove said.
Downing Street issued a statement rejecting Gove's line of argument. "It is not true that this deal is not legally binding. Britain's new settlement in the EU has legal force and is an irreversible International Law Decision that requires the European Court of Justice to take it into account," it said.
The statement quoted Alan Dashwood, a professor of EU law at Cambridge University, as saying that the deal contained only provisions that clarify and complement, while being fully compatible with, the existing treaties. "What is more, as an international agreement reached by consensus, the Decision can only be amended or rescinded by consensus - in other words, with the agreement of the UK. So, in that sense, it is irreversible," he said.
According to a YouGov poll published on Wednesday in the Times newspaper, 29 per cent of people would trust Cameron on EU issues, while 17 per cent would trust Gove. The most trusted public figure on the issue, by 34 per cent of people, is London Mayor Johnson, according to the poll.
The YouGov poll, conducted online, found that the "Leave"and "Remain" camps were neck and neck, but a ComRes telephone poll published on Wednesday in the Daily Mail found that the"In" camp was ahead by 12 points.