Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

British MPs debate whether gov't breaks rule over legal advice on Brexit

Theresa May answers questions about her Brexit agenda at a Parliamentary liaison committee meeting Nov. 29 2018 in London PRU AFP Getty Images
Kenny Thornton | 04 December, 2018, 21:29

He was there, ostensibly, to explain why the government has - despite a motion laid by MPs - decided not to publish his full legal advice on the Brexit deal, releasing a summary instead.

Now in contempt, May's government will be forced to release legal advice it had tried to keep secret which Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom announced will be published on Wednesday.

Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer called the contempt finding "a badge of shame" for the government.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is putting the fate of her Brexit deal in Parliament's hands, saying lawmakers must back it to deliver on voters' 2016 decision to leave the European Union and "create a new role for our country in the world".

As soon as the almost two-and-a-half hour grilling was over, Labour's shadow solicitor general stood up to demand a debate on the government being in contempt of parliament.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox was dispatched to field MPs' questions and promised he would answer whatever they wanted to know.

Bercow said there was an "arguable case that a contempt has been committed", and set aside time on Tuesday to debate the issue - just as members of parliament were meant to begin a five-day debate on Brexit itself before their historic vote on the divorce agreement on December 11.

The main thrust of Cox's advice is already known - the government released a 43-page document on it Monday in a bid to fend off the contempt motion.

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"Never before has the House of Commons found Ministers in contempt of Parliament".

Following Tuesday's vote, the privileges committee will decide which ministers should be held accountable for this failure and what sanction to apply, ranging from a reprimand to a potential suspension from the House of Commons.

It was not clear whether the Opposition parties would now push for that.

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.

It also ordered the "immediate publication" of the legal advice.

Subsequently, Cable returned to levels near that of mid-2017 around 1.2676 and is poised to close below 1.27 for the first time in four months.

But his words did little to soothe some of the deal's most caustic critics, where many Brexit supporters said the so-called backstop for Northern Ireland risked tying Britain into the EU's customs union indefinitely.

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