'Arguable case' that Government committed contempt over Brexit legal advice

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

There is an "arguable case that a contempt has been committed" by the Government over its Brexit legal advice, Commons Speaker John Bercow has told MPs.

It follows demands from Labour, the DUP and four other opposition parties, which had complained that the summary legal advice released on Monday did not comply with a Commons resolution agreed on November 13.

A summary of the advice was published on Monday, but this was not sufficient for many MPs, who wrote to Mr Bercow asking for contempt proceedings to begin.

The Speaker told the House: "I have considered the matter carefully and I am satisfied that there is an arguable case that a contempt has been committed. I'm therefore giving precedence for a motion to be tabled tonight before the House rises and to be taken as first business tomorrow."

The letter from MPs had said: "It is apparent to us – and we believe the overwhelming majority of the House – that the information released today does not constitute the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet.

"It does not comply with a motion of the House that you have ruled to be effective.

"We would now ask that you consider giving the House of Commons the opportunity to debate and consider this matter of contempt at the earliest opportunity."

Who has signed the letter?

  • Keir Starmer MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

  • Stephen Gethins MP, SNP Foreign Affairs and Europe spokesperson

  • Tom Brake MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Exiting the European Union

  • Nigel Dodds MP, Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

  • Hywel Williams MP,Shadow Plaid Cymru Spokesperson on Brexit

  • Caroline Lucas MP, Leader of the Green Party in Parliament

Mr Cox appeared in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon to address concerns over the legal advice on Britain's withdrawal agreement with the EU.

In the Commons, he took a swipe at the opposition.

"There is no use of baying and shouting from the members opposite. What am I trying to do is guard the public interest. That's all.

"And it's time they grew up and got real."

The Attorney General confirmed that neither the UK nor EU would be able to unilaterally end the Northern Irish backstop arrangement if it came into force.

The backstop was "expressly agreed not to be intended to establish a permanent relationship but to be temporary", and the Article 50 process did not provide a legal basis for a permanent arrangement.

But "if the protocol were to come into force, it would continue to apply in international law unless and until it was superseded by the intended subsequent agreement" which met the goals of avoiding a hard border and protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

"There is therefore no unilateral right for either party to terminate this arrangement. This means that if no superseding agreement can be reached within the implementation period, the protocol would be activated and in international law would subsist, even if negotiations had broken down.

"How likely that is to happen is a political question, to which the answer will no doubt depend partly on the extent to which it is in either party's interests to remain indefinitely within its arrangements."

Shadow solicitor general Nick Thomas-Symonds said it would be for Speaker John Bercow to rule whether there has been "an arguable case of contempt" of Parliament for "what we on these benches believe to be a failure to comply" with the motion passed earlier this month.

"For the sake of our economy, our jobs and our futures, all possible information should be made available to Members of this House," he said.

"The Government should do the right thing and make this full advice available."

Earlier today, Theresa May has reiterated her Brexit deal is the only viable option as MPs prepare to debate its contents this week.

When challenged on ITV’s This Morning about whether or not she’ll still be Prime Minister following the vote on December 11, the Prime Minister was defiant.

“I will still have a job in two weeks’ time and my job is making sure that we do what the public asked us to do – we leave the EU but we do it in a way which is good for them.”

Last week on the programme, Jeremy Corbyn outlined his desire to debate the Prime Minister face-to-face on ITV.

Mrs May said on Monday: “I am keen to have a head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn. I hope it goes through, there are discussions about where it’s going to be…”

“I think he (Mr Corbyn) said he wanted it to be on ITV so he could watch the final of ‘I’m a Celebrity’… actually I think his proposal meant that I would miss ‘Strictly’ and I hate to say this on ITV but I’m a bit of a ‘Strictly’ fan.”

The deal which will be subject to a vote next week has taken Mrs May and her government nearly two years to negotiate.

The Prime Minister admitted it has been a challenging process.

“It is a tough time, a difficult time, an awful lot of work has had to go into this but I always think the key thing is just keep a focus on what the end point is. And the end point is getting a good deal through for the UK and delivering on what people voted for – and that’s what drives me.”

When quizzed if the country “will be better off” because of her deal, she replied “that’s up to us.”

“What delivers us being better off is what we doing here in the UK do. It’s going to be different from being in the EU, it is a different relationship but that’s what people voted for.

“People wanted to come out, wanted to feel more independent and take more decisions for ourselves and that’s what the deal delivers.”