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Amal Clooney quits envoy role in protest of Britain's 'lamentable' Brexit legislation

Clooney said a U.K. bill that could go against law "threatens to embolden autocratic regimes that violate international law with devastating consequences all over the world."
Image: Amal Clooney
Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney looks on during an event organized by Amnesty International in Geneva in 2015.Fabrice Coffrini / AFP - Getty Images

LONDON — International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has quit her role as Britain's special envoy on media freedom in protest at the country's intention to break international law over Brexit-related legislation.

Clooney was appointed in 2019 to advise Britain on legal and policy initiatives that governments can adopt to improve media freedom, but abruptly cut short her role on Friday.

"It is lamentable for the U.K. to be speaking of its intention to violate an international treaty signed by the Prime Minister less than a year ago," said Clooney in a letter to British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.

"It threatens to embolden autocratic regimes that violate international law with devastating consequences all over the world," added the lawyer, who is married to movie-star George Clooney.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson told NBC News in response to the resignation: "We’d like to thank Amal Clooney for all her work as Special Envoy to defend journalists and promote media freedom around the world."

The British government drafted a bill that it acknowledges could violate its international legal obligations and undercut parts of the divorce deal it signed before Britain formally left the European Union in January.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the bill was essential to counter "absurd" threats from Brussels, but his decision has prompted a number of high-profile resignations in recent days, including of Richard Keen, the government's law officer for Scotland, and the head of its legal department, Jonathan Jones.

Johnson's decision also poses the threat of a rebellion by his own lawmakers over the so-called "Internal Market Bill," which is currently being debated by Parliament.

It has also led to a furious outcry within the E.U. as it would diminish the bloc's previously agreed oversight of trade between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, if a U.K.-E.U. trade agreement isn't secured.

This week, Democratic candidate Joe Biden said he would not support any trade deal with London if it endangers peace in Northern Ireland — an issue that has dominated the U.K.'s messy and protracted departure from the European Union.

Clooney has represented Iraq's Yazidi community and WikiLeaks head Julian Assange and served as a senior adviser to Kofi Annan when he was the United Nations' envoy on Syria. She has also been a visiting faculty member at Columbia Law School and represented journalists and political prisoners globally.

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She said she accepted the envoy role in April 2019 because she believed "in the importance of the cause," and appreciated the "significant role that the U.K. has played and can continue to play in promoting the international legal order."

But after she said she received "no assurance" that any change of position from the British government was imminent, she had "no alternative but to resign."