Tag Archives: legal advice

Government to publish full legal advice on Brexit deal after MPs find it in contempt of Parliament

As one commentator noted, there really isn’t enough popcorn in the world for the festivities taking place in the House of Commons today (December 4) – starting with the government’s humiliation at being found in contempt of Parliament.

MPs voted to find the government in contempt by a margin of 311 votes to 293.

Theresa May and her advisers must now deliver all legal advice they received before agreeing their Brexit deal with the EU to Parliament – or face the possibility of further sanction.

The Tory government had been in turmoil, desperately trying to defend against the motion that Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox committed the contempt by refusing to provide MPs with the information as demanded by the Commons in a Humble Motion that was approved unanimously on November 13.

Satirists had a field day –

– but the serious issue behind it is that Mrs May and her cronies have defied the rule of law. Parliament has supremacy over the government and the government may not ignore Parliament’s will.

Here’s a quick summary of the issue:

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, opened the debate by demanding that Parliament rule the government to be in contempt.

He said the issue was whether the government had complied with a binding order of the House to release the Attorney-General’s legal advice.

The government is wilfully refusing to comply with a binding motion of the House and is therefore in contempt, he said.

The House of Commons is a higher authority than the government, he said. Parliament is sovereign, not the executive.

He pointed out that the government was making “a plea of mitigation”, not a defence.

And he pointed out that “for months the government has ignored opposition day motions and now that tactic has got them in very deep water indeed”.

Then Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the Commons, presented a government amendment – that the matter should be referred to the Commons’ privileges committee. This is normal procedure, but Opposition parties and the DUP have demanded that the matter be handled by Parliament because it refers to a vote that is happening next week.

In his speech, Sir Keir Starmer had addressed this claim: “The short point is this: there is nothing to refer. A binding order was made and the government is refusing to comply with it. The government is simply playing for time, hoping this is in the long grass until the vote has gone.”

Ms Leadsom called on MPs to “act with caution” in the contempt vote. She said the government had put up the A-G for two hours of “frank” questions and published a 48-page legal position paper in lieu of full advice.

That is exactly the point – the government put forward what it wanted to provide, rather than what it was ordered to provide. She was as good as admitting the contempt Sir Keir Starmer had alleged.

Then she made a point that became a subject for humour:

https://twitter.com/owenjbennett/status/1069941739291586560

After that, the debate got bogged down in technicalities and nit-picking.

Notable in the midst of this was Jacob Rees-Mogg’s magnificent attempt to face in both directions at once. He said the government could not refuse to honour a Humble Address, claiming the national interest, because “the government interest and the national interest are different things”. Therefore the demand for the full legal advice on the Brexit deal must be honoured. But he said he would be supporting the government’s amendment – because he did not think the motion went far enough and should have identified the culprit and suggested a punishment.

More seriously: One MP after another stood up to suggest that publishing the papers would not be in the national interest because it may prejudice future relationships with others. This was misleading Parliament – and the country.

The Humble Address did not demand publication of the legal papers; it did not suggest that they should be made available to the general public – it called for them to be “laid before Parliament”. The only people who would see them would be MPs, and only in order to inform their opinions and debate on the Brexit agreement. So arguments about harming the national interest were nonsense.

The government’s amendment was first to be tested – and fell by just four votes, with 307 in favour and 311 against.

The government must now publish the Attorney-General’s final legal advice in full – and has committed to do so tomorrow (December 5).

Tories panic as MPs are to debate their contempt of Parliament TODAY

Shadow Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox: Metaphorically, he put his own head on the block.

Never mind anything else you’ve heard about the government’s legal advice on its Brexit deal; this is the real reason the Tories are facing contempt of Parliament proceedings:

You know it’s true.

And the things that voice said when he appeared in the Commons to justify refusing to provide the full legal advice present a summary of the legal advice to MPs were preposterous too.

Nobody was convinced by his performance (apart from, perhaps, Kenneth Clarke. Perhaps he had been smoking one fat cigar too many, or listening to one jazz piece too loud, before entering the Commons chamber). Here’s the issue:

The problem for the Tory government was that, when the Humble Address motion was made on November 13, there was no way it could have won a vote, and losing would have been taken as a sign that Parliament had lost confidence in the Conservatives’ ability to rule. The choice to accept the motion was the lesser of the evils on offer.

But then the government tried to back out of the commitment it had accepted – to provide, in full, the legal advice that supported Theresa May’s Brexit deal. This simple act indicates that there is something to hide, no matter what Mr Cox may say:

https://twitter.com/James4Labour/status/1069643160857600002

It is the suggestion that the Tories are hiding the facts that has led Commons Speaker John Bercow to schedule a debate on contempt of Parliament proceedings, to happen today – December 4 – before the start of a five-day debate on the Brexit deal.

He did this after representatives of every Opposition party in the Commons, including the DUP, wrote to him demanding that the government be held in contempt:

https://twitter.com/ToryFibs/status/1069654974186033153

Some have suggested that the DUP may have an ulterior motive for taking part in this:

But it is possible for that party to profit either way, as a future government – of any colour – may still have to rely on DUP votes to get its Brexit plans passed.

The result? As stated: A debate on a motion to find ministers in contempt of Parliament due to their failure to comply with the Humble Address passed on November 13.

No penalty is spelt out in the motion because it is intended to act as a final warning – but Labour spokespeople have said that if it is passed and the government still fails to comply with the Humble Address then the party would seek further sanctions.

These may include the suspension of Mr Cox.

But it is also likely that David Lidington, Mrs May’s de facto lieutenant, may also be held in contempt and suspended from the Commons.

And how have the Tories responded?

They’ve responded with abject panic, at first flooding the Commons chamber late into Monday evening to filibuster a debate on Scotland’s foreign policy footprint, in order to give their party’s whips time to submit their own amendment to the contempt motion.

But that amendment turned out to be a limp attempt to kick the matter down the road – referring it to the Commons privileges committee. This is unlikely to win the support of Opposition MPs and the DUP, all of whom have scented metaphorical blood.

One MP who appears to have made up his mind already is Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Read his words, watch the video clip of Shadow Solicitor-General Nick Thomas-Symonds, and ask yourself whether you think you deserve better from the government – considering the enormity of what’s at stake here.

I certainly do.

It’s contempt, then: Government failure to provide legal advice on Brexit to Parliament triggers proceedings

Geoffrey Cox: The Attorney General deliberately refused to provide Parliament with the documents it had demanded, making it impossible to judge either that advice or Theresa May’s Brexit agreement.

The Conservative government is facing contempt of Parliament proceedings after publishing a 43-page – redacted – summary of the legal advice provided to it about its Brexit agreement with the EU, rather than providing all the advice it was given to MPs.

As the Humble Motion approved by Parliament unanimously on November 13 was for the full advice and not a summary that has been edited to remove anything critical of the government, Mrs May’s administration may face contempt proceedings as early as this evening (December 3).

There was a possibility that the Tories could fend off such proceedings, if Attorney General Geoffrey Cox were to announce a u-turn by the government during his oral statement on the matter this afternoon.

But he did not.

Instead, he simply commended his 43-page summary – he called it a “commentary” – to the Commons.

He said: “The matters of law can only inform the political decision” and that, in the time available “it is impossible to cover each and every matter of law that arises over 585 pages” of the withdrawal agreement.

It seems to This Writer that if the government’s top lawyer hasn’t had time to consider all the implications of an international agreement of such seismic importance as this, he should have demanded an extension until he had been able to do the job properly. Anything else is incompetence and he admitted as much at around 4.30pm today.

Failure to bring the full legal advice before Parliament is therefore also failure to show what information was not provided to the Tory government. Without that, it would be impossible for Parliament to support Mrs May’s deal.

Without it, the advice provided on the customs union, the Northern Ireland border backstop, Gibraltar or whatever else is meaningless and Labour is right to launch contempt proceedings.

Mr Cox said MPs only had to ask him for information and they would receive it – but this assumes that he is in possession of such information and he had already admitted that he had not had time to consider all the angles.

Not only is the government failing in its duty to agree a reasonable deal that is the best possible for the United Kingdom, it is holding Parliament in contempt by refusing to allow other MPs the means to analyse the deal that has been agreed – alongside the legal advice provided by Mr Cox – and identify failings that must be corrected for the protection of us all.

We should be grateful to Mr Cox for making it clear that Mrs May’s Brexit agreement must not be passed by Parliament under any circumstance.

But his behaviour towards MPs is utterly unacceptable and the government must be held to account for it.

Contempt of Parliament should not be a trivial offence. If it is proved, then the guilty party could face expulsion from the House of Commons. So it will be interesting to see who will face Labour’s proceedings.

Mr Cox would seem the obvious target – but he has been constrained by the choices of others. Most notable among these is Theresa May, who has recklessly pushed her lumbering, clumsy Brexit juggernaut through Parliament and the EU at breakneck speed.

Shadow Solicitor-General Nick Thomas-Symonds said the Attorney General’s statement was entirely unacceptable.

He said there were differences between the legal positions leaked to the press over the weekend – and why did that happen? – and the political decisions of which Mr Cox spoke.

And he pointed out that the Humble Motion passed on November 13 demanded the final legal advice to cabinet, not a commentary.

“Isn’t the reality of the situation that the government does not want MPs to see the full advice for fear of the political consequences?” he asked.

That certainly seems to be the case.

Not only has Mrs May’s government deliberately committed a serious Parliamentary offence; it has torpedoed its own deal.

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Listen and watch as two British comedy greats skewer Theresa May and Brexit


Legends of British comedy have lined up to deal staggering blows to Theresa May and her plan for the UK to leave the European Union, as MPs prepare to vote on it.

Mike Harding used to be all over TV and the radio when I was younger, but seemed to have taken a step back from broadcasting in recent years.

That changed when a letter he wrote to prime minister Theresa May, in response to her missive to the nation demanding our support, went viral.

It’s a powerful piece – listen to the author reading it, if you don’t believe me – he recorded it for LBC’s James O’Brien. I’ll copy the text below.

The other comedy legend who slammed Brexit this weekend is Stephen Fry.

He shared an 11-minute animated video on YouTube and Twitter, detailing “the story of how a mythical EU dragon was conjured up” and outlining the “myths” that were spread by the campaign to leave the EU.

Here it is:

These attacks on Mrs May and Brexit – both of which have gone viral, gaining huge popularity with the general public – are critically important at this time.

Today (December 3), Parliament will find out whether Mrs May can be bothered to honour a binding vote by MPs, demanding in the name of the Queen that she make available all legal advice given to her on her Brexit plan.

Failure to provide the information will trigger proceedings against Mrs May and her government for contempt of Parliament, which used to be a serious matter but may now be worth very little.

More importantly: If she refuses, we will take this as tacit admission that the advice suggests her plan is not only bad, but disastrous.

That may be vital in swaying MPs to vote against it in the “meaningful vote” on the Brexit plan, to take place next week (December 11? 12? Thereabouts).

The information provided here by Messrs Harding and Fry could be instrumental in helping swing MPs against Mrs May’s plan – if you, as constituents, send it to your MPs in support of your own call for them to vote it down (assuming that this is what you want. If you support the plan, you’ll have to find your own supporting information. Good luck with that).

If the plan is voted down – and some commentators are suggesting that Mrs May could lose by a margin of as many as 400 votes – then Labour will demand a vote of “no confidence” in the government.

It seems the Conservative government is exerting pressure on its local party memberships to demand that MPs support the plan:

Ultimately, it may be a matter of reminding all our Parliamentarians that their behaviour will be a matter for discussion by future historians. The names of all those who take part in these crucial votes will be recorded – and may be vilified if the decision they take proves to be as disastrous as Messrs Harding and Fry suggest.

Does any MP – even the most spineless of the party faithful – want to be remembered as a toady who brought ruin down on the country?

I suppose we’ll find out in the very near future. We’ll have the names of all such representatives – if that’s the right word for them – before Christmas.

I don’t think there will be many, though. I think the arguments against the plan are persuasive, and that MPs will accept the need for a change of government rather than risking everything for the weakest and worst prime minister in living memory.

It would be ironic if a couple of comedians were responsible for swaying such a serious matter – but it would also be quintessentially British. Let’s make it so.

Here’s the text of Mr Harding’s letter – from the LBC website:

“Dear Mrs May,

“I am in France having a break having come here on the train all the way from Settle. I just read your letter to me and the rest of Britain wanting us all to unite behind the damp squib you call a deal. Unite? I laughed so much the mouthful of frogs legs I was eating ended up dancing all over the bald head of the bloke on the opposite table.

“Your party’s little civil war has divided this country irreparably. The last time this happened Cromwell discontinued the custom of kings wearing their heads on their shoulders.

“I had a mother who was of Irish descent, an English father who lies in a Dutch graveyard in the village where his Lancaster bomber fell in flames. I had a Polish stepfather who drove a tank for us in WW2 and I have two half Polish sisters and a half Polish brother who is married to a girl from Donegal.

“My two uncles of Irish descent fought for Britain in N Africa and in Burma.

“So far you have called us Citizens Of Nowhere and Queue Jumpers. You have now taken away our children and grandchildren’s freedom to travel, settle, live and work in mainland Europe.

“You have made this country a vicious and much diminished place. You as Home Sec sent a van round telling foreigners to go home. You said “ illegal” but that was bollocks as the legally here people of the Windrush generation soon discovered.

“Your party has sold off our railways, water, electricity, gas, telecoms, Royal Mail etc until all we have left is the NHS and that is lined up for the US to have as soon as Hannon and Hunt can arrange it.

“You have lied to the people of this country. You voted Remain yet changed your tune when the chance to grab the job of PM came. You should have sacked those lying bastards Gove and Bojo but daren’t because you haven’t the actual power.

“You have no answer to the British border on the island of Ireland nor do you know how the Gib border with Spain will work once we are out.

“Mrs May you have helped to divide this country to such an extent that families and friends are now no longer talking to each other, you have managed to negotiate a deal far worse than the one we had and all to keep together a party of millionaires, Eton Bullingdon boys, spivs and WI harridans. Your party conserves nothing. It has sold everything off in the name of the free market.

“You could have kept our industries going with investment and development – Germany managed it. But no – The Free Market won so Sunderland, Barnsley, Hamilton etc could all go to the devil.

“So Mrs May my answer to your plea for unity is firstly that it is ridiculous.

“48% of us will never forgive you for Brexit and secondly, of the 52% that voted for it many will not forgive you for not giving them what your lying comrades like Rees Mogg and Fox promised them.

“There are no unicorns, there is no £350 million extra for the NHS. The economy will tank and there will be less taxes to help out the poor. We have 350,000 homeless (not rough sleepers – homeless) in one of the richest countries on Earth and you are about to increase that number with your damn fool Brexit.

“The bald man has wiped the frogs legs of his head, I’ve bought him a glass of wine to say sorry; I’m typing this with one finger on my phone in France and I’m tired now and want to stop before my finger gets too tired to join the other one in a sailors salute to you and your squalid Brexit, your shabby xenophobia and Little Englander mentality.

“Two fingers to you and your unity from this proud citizen of nowhere. I and roughly half the country will never forgive you or your party.

“Yours,

“Mike Harding.”

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Tories are happy to risk flaccid ‘contempt of Parliament’ punishment over refusal to provide Brexit legal advice

“Not acceptable”: Keir Starmer.

What is the point of having an offence of ‘contempt of Parliament’ if any punishment is so light that MPs aren’t worried about committing it?

I always thought MPs who were found guilty of contempt faced the possibility of being expelled from Parliament but after Conservative MPs – notably Iain Duncan Smith – committed the offence time and time again, it became clear that the threat of penalisation for it is a paper tiger.

In fact, the most discomfort any MP is likely to suffer is a paper cut from the notification letter. Big deal.

And in this particular instance, who will take the fall?

The government is being accused of “showing contempt for this house” by Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, who has demanded to know why ministers are refusing to publish the government’s full legal advice relating to Theresa May’s Brexit deal in an emergency Commons debate this morning (November 29).

He said the government’s counter offer of sending attorney general Geoffrey Cox to answer questions on Monday was “not good enough”.

So – what, would everybody in the government be found in contempt?

Would it be Mr Cox, the Attorney General who said the Tory government would not publish the full legal advice, despite having been ordered to do so in a binding vote on November 13?

Or how about Robert Buckland, the solicitor general who said Mr Cox would attend Parliament and answer questions on the matter “in the fullest possible way” – which means nothing, as their idea of what’s “possible” certainly won’t coincide with that of the Labour Party or the British public?

Some cabinet sources say that the full legal advice makes clear that the mutual exit mechanism negotiated by Theresa May to the controversial Northern Irish backstop is a figleaf, and that in reality the European Union has an effective veto on whether the UK can abandon it.

10 Downing Street has denied this. So should Mrs May face contempt proceedings, for failing to supply the full factual information that would support this claim?

Either way, you have to agree with Sir Keir:

Commons Speaker John Bercow has made it clear that the government could be in contempt of Parliament if it fails to provide the information as demanded:

My opinion is that any demand for action in respect of contempt of Parliament can wait until after MPs hear Mr Cox on Monday. There’s no reason to go off half-cocked.

But my fear is that, even if anyone in the government is found guilty, it won’t mean anything at all.

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Theresa May stamps on democracy – she’s refusing to publish the legal advice on her Brexit deal

This is Theresa May’s response to Parliament and the Queen. Charming.

Theresa May’s government has refused to publish the legal advice that supports the Brexit deal she has agreed with the EU – spitting* on the will of Parliament and – it could be argued – the Queen.

Labour has argued that MPs need full details of the legal advice provided to Mrs May by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox if they are to make an informed decision on her Brexit agreement with the European Union.

MPs supported this view on November 13, when a ‘humble address’ to this effect was approved. This is a message to the Queen, requesting that she order the government to carry out a particular action – in this case, publishing the legal advice requested by the Labour Party.

Conservative MPs were told to abstain on the motion after it became clear that the DUP, which props up Mrs May’s minority government, would support it – and members of the Tory Brexiteer European Research Group (ERG) had decided to abstain in order to ensure that it would pass.

Faced with certain and embarrassing defeat, Tory whips opted to allow the motion to pass uncontested.

The date set for publication of the full advice was Novembe 27.

But as the deadline approached, Mrs May’s de facto second-in-command, David Lidington, said the government had decided to ignore Parliamentary democracy and publish only “a full, reasoned position statement laying out the government’s both political and also legal position on the proposed withdrawal agreement”.

Damn straight.

It could be argued that Mr Lidington is only honouring what he promised after the motion was passed – but this is not acceptable to Parliament.

The words of the motion demanded that the government provide “any legal advice in full” – and that is what the government must do. The decision is binding.

Evolve Politics has suggested that there are “damning” documents about the Northern Ireland “backstop”:

Note the last sentence in Alex Wickham’s tweet, above – that Geoffrey Cox’s political judgement was that “a deal is better than no deal”.

It seems he may have been mistaken in that – if the deal in question is Mrs May’s deal:

But then, it seems Mr Cox may have been less than sure about any aspect of the deal:

Let us be clear: If the legal advice received by the government fully supported Mrs May’s deal, her government would have published it happily.

We must therefore assume that it does not.

We also know that the MPs are duty-bound to pass a “meaningful” vote on that deal on December 11 – a duty that they cannot fulfil without full access to all the facts they need.

Mrs May agreed to that “meaningful” vote – but it seems clear she has no intention of allowing the vote on December 11 to be “meaningful” in the sense required by Parliament.

Her decisions show contempt for the Queen, Parliament and democracy. 

*I cleaned this up. Stronger language is required.

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