Theresa May facing constitutional battle over decision not to publish Brexit legal advice

Prime Minister Theresa May is facing more pressure over Brexit. Credit: AP

Theresa May is facing increased pressure to release details of her Brexit legal advice as Labour threatens to trigger a full-scale constitutional battle.

The government has received demands to publish in full the legal advice on Britain's withdrawal agreement with the EU.

But the prime minister is holding out, and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will appear in the House of Commons on Monday to address concerns.

MPs from across Parliament have called for the advice's publication, and Labour has warned it will join with opposition parties and initiate contempt proceedings in a bid to force the government's hand.

MPs have argued they are entitled to the advice – including Mr Cox's legal opinion – following a binding vote last month.

Ministers have since been accused of ignoring the will of the House after saying they will publish only a "full reasoned political statement" on the legal position concerning the agreement.

Geoffrey Cox is to address the House of Commons on Monday. Credit: PA

The government chose not to oppose the motion – tabled by Labour under an arcane procedure known as the humble address – as they feared a damaging Commons defeat.

Despite Mr Cox's scheduled appearance in the Commons, Labour is threatening a full-scale legal wrangle.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has said the party would be willing to write to Speaker John Bercow to initiate proceedings.

Labour says it has the support of the DUP – who prop up the Government in the Commons – as well as the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, while many Tory MPs are also demanding to see the advice.

Speaking at the weekend, Sir Keir warned the Government was setting itself on a "collision course" with Parliament if it did not back down.

"If it is now moving into the territory of ignoring Parliament altogether and breaching an order of Parliament, then we’re getting to very, very deep water," he said.

Sir Keir Starmer says Labour is ready to initiate a legal battle. Credit: PA

Under Commons rules, if the Speaker allows a contempt motion to go before the House and the vote is carried, it would then be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

If the committee rules a contempt has occurred, it can recommend a suitable punishment which is then put back to MPs to agree.

In theory, the most severe penalty is expulsion from the House, although the prospects of that happening would appear remote.

However any finding against the Government would be potentially highly damaging for Mrs May at a time when she is at her most vulnerable politically.

Boris Johnson has also called for the legal advice to be released. Credit: PA

In his weekly column in The Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson said it was a "scandal" that ministers were withholding the full advice.

"It is outrageous that the public should be prevented from knowing the full legal implications of this appalling deal – when it is their rights, their freedoms, their hard-won suffrage, that are about to be bartered away," he said.

The clash comes as MPs prepare to begin five days of debate on the agreement, starting on Tuesday and culminating in the vote on December 11, which could decide the fate of her deal and ultimately her Government.

Sir Keir said that if it was voted down, Labour would table a no confidence motion in an attempt to force a general election.

His warning came as The Times reported that the DUP was considering abandoning the Government if there was a confidence vote, despite their "confidence and supply" agreement.