Brexit: Government may have broken rules by not publishing legal advice - Speaker

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MrSuavetopia
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The UK government may have broken Parliamentary rules by not publishing Brexit legal advice, the Commons Speaker has said.

John Bercow said "there is an arguable case" that a contempt of Parliament has been committed.

It means MPs will debate and vote on Tuesday on whether or not to refer the case to the Standards Committee. This is likely to delay the start of the debate on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

Mr Bercow was responding to a call from senior MPs in six parties - Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the Democratic Unionist Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party - for contempt proceedings to be launched.

They say the government has gone back on a binding vote to release "any legal advice in full".

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox earlier published an overview of his legal advice on Theresa May's Brexit deal and answered MPs questions on it.

He argued that it would not be "in the national interest" to publish his advice in full as it would break a longstanding convention that law officers' advice to ministers is confidential.

He said he would answer all MPs' questions and there was no cover-up, adding: "There is nothing to see here."

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-46435128

This follows on then from the grilling of the Attorney General on the matter, where his summary of legal advice is the key sticking point. The House wants it in full (as per a previous vote), something the Government is refusing (Context: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-46419790).

So I guess this is yet another headache for May at this critical juncture. Also shows just how politically weak she's finding herself at the moment.

This also makes sense since, if people want to see the MPs vote on May's deal, then naturally it's in the public interest that they are informed legally.
Last edited by MrDystopia; 3 years ago
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Rakas21
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I'm of the opinion that the government is correct in principal but that by fighting this they are creating a bigger issue than it would have been (everybody already knows there is no unilateral way of leaving the backstop).

Where i tend to disagree with you (and back the government) is that legal advise is privelaged infornation and Brexit should be treat no differently to any other thing. Parties form their legal opinions on many issues and test those in court all the time.

This is simply a stick to beat the government with even if government is trying to fight it with a twig.
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L i b
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I think the Government is entitled to take private legal advice and decide how they act on it. As said, it is also a long-standing convention that they can.
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MrSuavetopia
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(Original post by Rakas21)
Where i tend to disagree with you (and back the government) is that legal advise is privelaged infornation and Brexit should be treat no differently to any other thing.
(Original post by L i b)
I think the Government is entitled to take private legal advice and decide how they act on it. As said, it is also a long-standing convention that they can.
Be that as it may, I think the issue in this story arises from the fact that the Government was already defeated in the House by a motion that says they're now obliged to publish the full advice. As such, to ignore such a motion does seem to fly in the face of convention, hence the accusations of contempt of Parliament. It was accepted by the Tories (who abstained) and was deemed 'effective' by the Speaker.

It brings about an interesting debate given it would mean Parliament is against the Government on the topic of how far Parliamentary sovereignty can extend. And who has the final say on such a matter. Could very well end up in the courts if the government doesn't relent and accept the motion.
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nulli tertius
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(Original post by MrDystopia)
Be that as it may, I think the issue in this story arises from the fact that the Government was already defeated in the House by a motion that says they're now obliged to publish the full advice. As such, to ignore such a motion does seem to fly in the face of convention, hence the accusations of contempt of Parliament. It was accepted by the Tories (who abstained) and was deemed 'effective' by the Speaker.

It brings about an interesting debate given it would mean Parliament is against the Government on the topic of how far Parliamentary sovereignty can extend. And who has the final say on such a matter. Could very well end up in the courts if the government doesn't relent and accept the motion.
It is very difficult for it to end up in the courts because of the Bill of Rights. For example the courts won't investigate the circumstances of a committal to prison for breach of privilege.

There are 19th century precedents Parliament can demand private solicitors papers. There are 18th century precedents that Parliament can demand communications between the Crown and ministers.

A lot of the trouble here is due to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. The fact that a vote of confidence has to be a stand alone vote makes backbench rebellions risk free. The chief whip had no whip to crack to reverse the original vote.
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