© James Ferguson

Two things will be front of mind for the legal profession this week: reactions to Boris Johnson’s proposal to break international law over the Brexit treaty; and his U-turn on the government’s push for workers to return to offices.

Next week the FT’s 15th annual “Innovative Lawyers” Special Report on Europe will look at how the profession has responded to a turbulent year of events, including the pandemic, Brexit and the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US.

The following stories are taken from our Full Disclosure email briefing, sent to FT subscribers in the industry each week, sharing what has been most popular with legal readers on FT.com.

The law — and what constitutes the breaking of it — is the hottest topic in Europe at the moment, thanks to the British government. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to break international law over the Brexit withdrawal agreement triggered the resignation of the UK government’s legal department head Jonathan Jones QC and caused consternation across parliament.  

Meanwhile, Brexit negotiations are in a log jam. Now a group of the UK’s most senior state aid lawyers have written to Boris Johnson offering to help design a post-Brexit subsidy regime for the UK to break the deadlock. 

The lawyers, including pro-Brexit voices, such as Martin Howe QC, as well as Brexit sceptics, including George Peretz QC, have offered to set up an advisory group to “massively accelerate” the policy design process. We can only hope the government plans to listen more carefully to legal arguments in the form of this group of heavyweights than it does its own advisers.

What are your thoughts on the government’s plans and their legality? How worrying is the exit of Jonathan Jones — and do you have tip-offs for further news stories? Do let me know at kate.beioley@ft.com

Lawyers offer Johnson help to break state aid impasse in EU talks 

© Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Legal experts from across the political spectrum say they can help the UK design a post-Brexit subsidy regime in order to break the Brexit impasse.

“The question of how the UK can achieve a new, independent subsidy regime after Brexit while giving Brussels sufficient confidence to grant a ‘zero tariff, zero quota’ free trade agreement remains a fundamental sticking point in EU-UK negotiations.”

When lawmakers approve lawbreaking 

© Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

FT contributing editor David Allen Green last week wrote his own searing take on the government’s plans to breach international obligations, calling it a “surreal constitutional moment, even if the proposal is not yet law”.

“A government is proposing to act unlawfully, and a legislature is endorsing the proposal. A more fundamental deliberate subversion of the rule of law is difficult to imagine. It is almost as if a fanciful question in a law examination has jumped from the page and is rampaging in real life.”

Companies scramble to reverse back-to-office plans 

© Hannah McKay/Reuters

Companies across Britain have been rushing to U-turn on plans to bring thousands of staff back to offices this week after the government said workers should instead stay home if they were able. 

“A survey by the FT of some of the largest office employers last week showed that thousands had returned since the start of the month. Professional services firms such as EY and Allen & Overy opened offices this month again for all staff who wanted to return for the first time since the start of the pandemic.”   

Donald Trump steps up fight over Supreme Court nominee 

© Tom Brenner/Reuters

Following the death of Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the US president is pushing to fill the seat and cement conservative control of the Supreme Court with a 6-3 majority. Such a deal could provide an enduring victory for Republicans even if they lose the presidential election.

“Ginsburg in her final days dictated a statement saying her ‘most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed’, according to National Public Radio.”

Directors to face ID checks in anti-fraud crackdown 

© Charlie Bibby/Financial Times

The government is moving forward with a plan for a radical shake-up of the UK company registrar Companies House in order to crack down on its use by scammers as a means of washing dirty money. 

“At the moment, the Companies House register includes almost 4.5m UK businesses but it operates in much the same way it did 150 years ago — meaning criminals have been able to set up seemingly legitimate shell companies without the most basic identity checks.”

Closing argument 
Multimillionaire Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has become one of the Covid pandemic’s unlikely heroes as a result of a food poverty campaign that forced Boris Johnson to U-turn on plans to restrict free school meals for children during the holidays. The 22-year old footballer has also been the target of vile racial abuse. The FT’s sports editor Murad Ahmed meets the young player for lunch at The Gilbert Scott restaurant in London. 

“A waitress had warned me that he had pre-ordered. I express disappointment that despite going off menu, the choice is unimaginative. ‘Pasta?,’ he says as we sit down at a white-linened table. ‘I need energy. Carbs. Seriously.’ Yet, when I select grilled hake, he returns to the menu: ‘Wait, they do salmon?’”

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