Brexit: Ministers may have broken rules by not publishing legal advice - Speaker

Clay Curtis
December 4, 2018

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has said there is an "arguable case" that the Government committed contempt of Parliament over the legal advice on Brexit.

Mrs May's team is hoping that five days of debate in the Commons ahead of the vote next week might - just might - change some minds. It is the first time a government has ever been held in contempt by parliament, and unquestionably further weakens the authority of Theresa May.

"It is of huge constitutional and political significance", Keir Starmer, the Opposition Labour Party's Brexit spokesman, said after the vote.

This is a far greater concern for No 10 than sanctioning of the government or a minister for contempt, which helps explain why the prime minister has deployed leading Brexiteers Mr Cox and Michael Gove, the environment secretary, in the past two days to try and sell her imperfect deal to Brexiteer MPs.

It had tried to head off the contempt vote with an amendment that would have sent the issue off to consideration by a parliamentary committee.

There is no requirement for the government to share legal advice on new policies, nor is there precedent for legal advice to be routinely published.

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Ms Haddon said the contempt motion was a "show of force" which could foreshadow both the final vote on the deal and the various amendments lawmakers are trying to attach to it.

She talked up the prospects of post-Brexit trade deals with Japan, Canada, Argentina and Australia, as she banged the drum for global Britain.

Labour had accused ministers of "wilfully refusing to comply" with a binding Commons vote last month demanding they provided the attorney general's full and final advice.

In an address to parliament on Monday, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox claimed publishing the full extent of legal advice he provided the government over the deal would be "contrary to the public interest".

Fears are mounting within government that the defeat could be so heavy it would deliver a fatal blow to the Prime Minister and she might be better off approaching Brussels to secure improved terms before MPs vote.

Majority support would mean she can introduce a formal EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill to parliament for consideration and ratification in early 2019.

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