Mr Jones has resigned as the permanent secretary of the Government Legal Department, the Attorney’s General’s Office has said, in the latest departure of a top civil servant. The Financial Times reported Sir Jonathan quit due to a dispute with Downing Street over suggestions it will challenge parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said: “I can confirm Sir Jonathan has resigned but cannot comment further.”
Two Whitehall officials told the FT that he was leaving over concerns the Prime Minister wanted to row back on parts of the Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland.
This is the sixth resignation of a senior civil servant this year amid growing tensions between officials and Downing Street as Mr Johnson and his top aide Dominic Cummings plan an overhaul of Whitehall.
Labour’s shadow attorney general Lord Falconer tweeted: “Jonathan Jones impressive lawyer and very decent person. Loyal civil servant.
“If he can’t stay in the public service, there must be something very rotten about this Government. Reckless, law breaking, trashing the best of the UK.”
His resignation has been announced on the same day the EU’s Brexit negotiatior Michel Barnier arrived for the eighth round of talks beginning in London.
Mr Johnson has also set a five-week deadline for trade talks to succeed in time for the transition’s end on December 31.
UK negotiator David Frost said: “Today, I will sit down with Michel Barnier and drive home our clear message that we must make progress this week if we are to reach an agreement in time.
“We have now been talking for six months and can no longer afford to go over well-trodden ground.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government was proposing “limited clarifications” to the law to ensure ministers can preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement in the event of no deal.
The Internal Market Bill aims to ensure goods from Northern Ireland continue to have access to the UK market, but this will still ensure EU state aid rules, which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland, will not apply in the rest of the UK.
In addition, an amendment to the Finance Bill will give ministers the power to designate which goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are considered “at risk” of entering the EU single market and are therefore liable to EU tariffs.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said discussions were continuing with the EU to resolve the outstanding issues relating to the Northern Ireland protocol, intended to ensure there is no return of a hard border with the Republic once the transition is over.
He said the legislative changes were a necessary “safety net” in the event that they were unable to come to an agreement.
But European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned there could be no backtracking by the UK on its previous commitments if it wanted to reach a free trade agreement.
Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin has also called on Boris Johnson to reject the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (WA) if the EU insists on an “unreasonable” interpretation of its provisions.
Sir Bernard, who chairs the steering group of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, said that if there was no agreement with Brussels the UK must assert its own interpretation of the WA.
He said in a statement: “If the EU is unwilling to do a deal with us, there are two options. The first is to enact domestic legislation that will largely nullify the direct effect and direct applicability of EU law. We have the mandate and majority to do this.”