Daily Mail


Ber­cow al­lows MPs to de­bate fate of At­tor­ney Gen­eral af­ter he re­fused to pub­lish full ad­vice on May’s deal

- By Ja­son Groves and Daniel Martin European Politics · UK News · Politics · British House of Commons · John Bercow · Parliament of the United Kingdom · Theresa May · Partido Unionista Democratico · Conservative Party of Canada · Iceland · Belgium · United Kingdom · ITV · European Union · Aviva · Sajid Javid · Belarus · Arbeidersparty · Jacob Rees-Mogg · Keir Starmer · Desmond Swayne · Geoffrey Cox · David Lidington · Chris Williamson · Kenneth Clarke · Nigel Dodds

BRI­TAIN’S law chief could face sus­pen­sion from Par­lia­ment to­day af­ter re­fus­ing to pub­lish his full le­gal ad­vice on Brexit.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ge­of­frey Cox has been un­der pres­sure from op­po­si­tion MPs to re­veal his brief­ing to the Gov­ern­ment.

In a dra­matic move that ap­peared cal­cu­lated to em­bar­rass the Gov­ern­ment, Com­mons Speaker John Ber­cow last night granted MPs the chance to de­bate whether con­tempt of Par­lia­ment has been com­mit­ted. A de­bate to­day could re­sult in Mr Cox, or Theresa May’s deputy David Lid­ing­ton be­ing sus­pended.

With Tory Euroscep­tics and the DUP join­ing all op­po­si­tion par­ties in critis­ing the Gov­ern­ment’s stance, Mrs May now faces the real prospect of de­feat over her Brexit deal on De­cem­ber 11.

Mr Cox, who ro­bustly de­fended her deal yes­ter­day, said he was ready to face ‘ sanc­tion’, but in­sisted it was not in the na­tional in­ter­est to pub­lish the full ad­vice.

In­stead he pub­lished a 43-page ‘le­gal po­si­tion’ set­ting out the is­sues in law. Se­nior Tories be­lieve the con­tempt charge is a stunt de­signed to wreck Mrs May’s ef­forts to pro­mote her deal ahead of a crunch vote next week.

But Mr Ber­cow, who has made no se­cret of his op­po­si­tion to Brexit, last night told MPs there was an ‘ar­guable case that con­tempt has been com­mit­ted.’

The vote on whether the Gov­ern­ment is in con­tempt will be held im­me­di­ately be­fore Mrs May opens five days of de­bate on her Brexit deal. The row in­ten­si­fied as Mr Cox ad­mit­ted the coun­try would have no ‘uni­lat­eral’ right to quit the con­tro­ver­sial Ir­ish back­stop, which could see the whole of the UK kept in the cus­toms union ‘in­def­i­nitely’ af­ter Brexit.

But in a boost for Mrs May, the Euroscep­tic cab­i­net min­is­ter said the back­stop was a ‘cal­cu­lated risk... but one worth tak­ing’.

He also said he was back­ing the PM’s Brexit deal be­cause ‘I do not be­lieve that we are likely to be en­trapped in it per­ma­nently’.

The un­var­nished ad­vice was de­signed to per­suade Euroscep­tic op­po­nents to fall in line.

On a day of de­vel­op­ments, Mrs May told ITV’s This Morn­ing she would still be PM in two-weeks’ time. Her chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Olly Rob­bins ad­mit­ted the back­stop plan was an ‘un­com­fort­able ne­ces­sity’ for Bri­tain and the EU.

Down­ing Street de­nied re­ports that the vote next Tues­day could be post­poned if the ef­fort to per­suade 100 Tory rebels fails to achieve a break­through soon. Mean­while, the head of in­sur­ance giant Aviva said busi­ness wanted MPs to back the deal, say­ing mar­kets would re­spond ‘re­ally pos­i­tively to a deal go­ing through.’

Home Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid also con­firmed that post-Brexit im­mi­gra­tion plans have been de­layed fol­low­ing a Cab­i­net row over Mrs May’s drive to bar low skilled mi­grants get­ting visas. Mr Cox’s ‘le­gal po­si­tion’ warns that, once ap­proved, the back­stop would con­tinue to ap­ply ‘un­less and un­til its pro­vi­sions are su­per­seded by a sub­se­quent agree­ment be­tween the UK and the EU’.

But Labour, the DUP – which props up the Tories in the Com­mons – and some Euroscep­tic MPs said the doc­u­ment did not com­ply with Par­lia­ment’s de­mand for the full le­gal ad­vice. Labour MP Chris Wil­liamson asked Mr Cox if he was ‘ready to be ex­pelled?’ And Tory Brex­i­teer Ja­cob Rees-Mogg said the law chief had no right to deny the de­mand of a ‘higher author­ity’ to pub­lish the ad­vice in full.

The At­tor­ney Gen­eral flatly de­nied he was re­fus­ing its pub­li­ca­tion to spare the gov­ern­ment em­bar­rass­ment, say­ing: ‘I can­not take a step that I firmly and truly be­lieve would be con­trary to the pub­lic in­ter­est.’

Mr Ber­cow’s de­ci­sion came af­ter shadow Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer and coun­ter­parts in five other op­po­si­tion par­ties in­clud­ing the DUP last night wrote to Mr Ber­cow over the re­fusal to pub­lish the ad­vice in full.

In a rowdy ses­sion in the Com­mons yes­ter­day, Mr Cox ad­mit­ted he had ‘wres­tled’ with his con­science be­fore de­cid­ing to back the deal. He con­firmed that in terms of strict in­ter­na­tional law, the UK could be kept in the back­stop ‘in­def­i­nitely’, but said the deal was a ‘ cal­cu­lated risk’ that MPs would have to ‘weigh up’.

He said the EU did not want the UK in the back­stop for fear it would give Bri­tish firms a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. And he said the back­stop would even­tu­ally suc­cumb to le­gal chal­lenge.

For­mer chan­cel­lor Ken­neth Clarke said Mr Cox’s com­ments had ‘put paid to quite a lot of the para­noia and con­spir­acy the­o­ries’ ped­dled by crit­ics.

But Tory Brex­i­teer Sir Des­mond Swayne said it sim­ply con­firmed the back­stop plan was a ‘trap’.

The DUP’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the le­gal ad­vice showed the Brexit deal was ‘deeply un­sat­is­fac­tory’.

‘Wres­tled with his con­science’

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