All opposition parties in the House of Commons plan to join forces today in a bid to force the government to publish the full legal advice it received ahead of the publication of Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.
Last month MPs approved a motion demanding full publication of the government’s legal advice. But in a statement to parliament today Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who wrote the advice, is expected to offer only a limited summary of the legal advice given to government.
Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said they would press for contempt of parliament proceedings if MPs are not shown the advice. He wrote in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph: ‘If the full legal advice is not forthcoming, we will have no alternative but to start proceedings for contempt of parliament – and we will work with all parties to take this forward.’
Some MPs believe the full advice given suggests the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ would continue indefinitely. Ministers insist it is a long-standing convention that legal advice to the cabinet is kept confidential, and that government would otherwise be unable to function.
The prime minister’s refusal to release the full advice prompted Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which has propped up May’s government since the general election in 2017 – to accuse her of having ‘something to hide’.
If contempt proceedings were requested, it would be up to Speaker John Bercow to decide whether a debate and vote should be held. Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab told yesterday’s Sunday Times newspaper the backstop would last indefinitely – for as long as it takes to negotiate a new UK-EU relationship – ‘unless the EU allows us to exit’.
‘The EU has a clear veto, even if the future negotiations stretch on for many years, or even if they break down and there is no realistic likelihood of us reaching agreement,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Labour has said it will ‘inevitably’ call a motion of no confidence in the government if May loses the vote on her Brexit deal. Shadow Brexit Secretary Starmer said his party would seek to force a general election.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove claimed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that May could still win the vote, which is set to be held on 11 December.
But asked if she would have to resign if she lost the vote, Gove claimed: ‘Absolutely not.’
However, Starmer said: ‘If the prime minister has lost a vote of that significance then there has to be a question of confidence in the government. ‘I think it’s inevitable that we would seek to move that,’ he added.
Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, if the government loses a vote on a motion of no confidence it has 14 days to pass a second confidence motion, or parliament is dissolved and a general election is called.