EXCLUSIVE

By Hannah Rodger and Tom Gordon

BORIS Johnson has filled a vacancy for one of the toughest jobs in Westminster - the UK Government’s chief law officer for Scotland.

Keith Stewart QC is today expected to be announced as the new Advocate General Scotland, a month after his predecessor quit on principle.

Mr Stewart, a former prosecutor who was nicknamed “Boff” at school because he was considered a boffin, will replace Lord Keen of Elie in the House of Lords.

Lord Keen dramatically quit as Advocate General on September 16 over the controversial UK Internal Market Bill covering the country’s post-Brexit trade regime.

HeraldScotland:

The UK Government admitted the legislation would allow ministers to breach international law by over-writing parts of the EU withdrawal deal in regard to Northern Ireland.

Lord Keen said he had found it “increasingly difficult to reconcile” his obligations as a law officer required to uphold the law with the Bill, and had tried and failed to “identify a respectable argument” for key parts of it.

Read more: PM accepts resignation of Scotland's Advocate General Lord Keen

He told the Prime Minister in his resignation note: “Your Government faces challenges on a number of fronts and I fear that the Bill in its present form will not make these any easier.

“I wish you well in dealing with these issues.”

Mr Stewart will be ennobled to take up the role, as was Lord Keen when he became Advocate General in 2015.

One Westminster source told the Herald there had been around a dozen applicants for the post, but few had the “iron stomach” required after Lord Keen’s experience.

Eventually the shortlist was whittled down to three people, before Mr Stewart was selected.

One insider quipped: “A lot of folk were interested right up until they spoke to Lord Keen. Many fell at the first hurdle.”

Lord Keen’s resignation was the highest profile of several resignations from government over the Bill.

Joe Biden, the Democratic Presidential nominee, also said the US would veto any trade deal with the UK if the Bill jeopardised the Good Friday peace process.

Holyrood has already rejected the UK Internal Market Bill as a “power grab” which tramples on Edinburgh’s decision-making powers, teeing up a fight with Westminster.

Read more: Holyrood votes to reject controversial UK Internal Market Bill

Besides that law, the new Advocate General also faces the prospect of court challenges on the constitution if the UK Government continues to block an independence referendum.

A new Ipsos Mori poll yesterday suggested the SNP on course to win an overwhelming majority in next year’s Holyrood election and 58 per cent support for independence.

Among Scottish legal circles, Mr Stewart is said to be well-respected, with former colleagues telling The Herald he was “very fair” and “honourable”.

One senior Scottish legal figure said Mr Stewart was a good fit for the Advocate General role, adding he had a “Good breadth of experience”.

They added: “ Keith is a lovely man, and a former Advocate Depute. He’s a family man and a very fair prosecutor.”

Asked to describe him, they said he was “Clever, tenacious, likeable and funny” adding that he was “a proper toff...in a good way.”

Another said he was “ a very sensible guy” who was “genuinely very well respected” within the Scottish legal sector.

They added: He won’t do anything daft, that’s for sure. It’s a very good appointment and I think he will do really well in the role.”

When contacted by The Herald last night, Mr Stewart said he was unable to confirm any appointment by the Prime Minister but said there had been “lots of rumours swirling around”.

He said: “I wouldn’t be able to comment on any appointment, myself or someone else, as nothing has been formally announced.”