Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

British government forced to back down in Brexit legal advice row

UK told Brexit could be cancelled without approval of other members UK 'may unilaterally withdraw from Brexit'
Andrew Cummings | 05 December, 2018, 02:03

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "We have given ministers numerous opportunities to comply with the order of Parliament and to release the Attorney General's full and final legal advice on the Government's Brexit deal".

This was after MPs found the government in contempt of Parliament for not publishing its full legal advice on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

In dramatic scenes at Westminster, the Prime Minister's Democratic Unionist Party allies joined Labour and other opposition parties to inflict defeat on the Government by 311 votes to 293.

Many lawmakers were also angry over being shown what they described as a summary, not the full legal advice on May's Brexit deal which her government had seen.

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.

She said: "We can shut our eyes to these hard truths and carry on debating between these extremes for months to come, or accept that the only solution that will endure is one that addresses the concerns of those who voted Leave, while reassuring those who voted Remain".

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

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said: 'We've tested the opinion of the House twice on this very serious subject.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today that the meaningful vote on the Brexit deal was "the single biggest decision the country will have taken in 50 years" and the Government's decision "impedes the house in the performance of its function".

It leaves the Prime Minister facing what increasingly appears to be an inevitable.

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But he was also there not just to defend the prime minister, but to try and sell her deal to recalcitrant Conservative MPs by attempting to reassure them that her Brexit compromise - despite having "unattractive, unsatisfying elements" - was not going to trap the United Kingdom into a customs union with the EU forevermore.

May, for her part, has said the full extent of advice received by her government over the Brexit deal is confidential under lawyer-client privilege.

However, Conservative whips may hope by opening up the prospect that parliament could push the government towards a softer Brexit, the amendment may convince a few Brexiters to throw their weight reluctantly behind May's deal.

It's an embarrassing defeat for Theresa May's government, who now face five days of Brexit debate, before the crunch vote on the deal agreed with the European Union on December 11.

"The alternative is uncertainty and risk - the risk Brexit could be stopped, the risk we could crash out with no deal".

But the problem - seven days out from the vote - hasn't changed: Up to 100 Conservative MPs quite simply think this deal is so bad that they are not prepared to vote for it.

It means that instead of the government having to come back to tell MPs what their next steps are - and MPs voting on that - they would theoretically be able to vote on what they wanted the government to do as well.

May wants to secure parliament's approval for her deal to keep close ties with the European Union after leaving in March, but opposition is fierce, with Brexit supporters and opponents alike wanting to thwart or derail her plan.

"The Government must not be allowed to use this chaotic situation to take focus away from the mess they are making of Brexit".

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