May makes last-ditch attempt to rally MPs after historic humiliation.
BREXIT: PM begins five-day debate by suffering historic humiliation as her government found in contempt
Theresa May has made a last-ditch attempt to rally MPs behind her Brexit deal after suffering the historic humiliation of seeing her government found in contempt of parliament.
In dramatic scenes at Westminster, the government bowed to pressure to publish the “final and full” legal advice to Cabinet on the deal after MPs voted by 311 to 293 that its failure to do so amounted to contempt.
The Prime Minister’s Democratic Unionist Party allies – along with Tory MPs Philip Hollobone and Peter Bone – joined opposition parties in the unprecedented move.
It is the first time in modern history that any government has been found in contempt and means the highly sensitive advice provided by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will be published, in contravention of long-standing practice.
Ministers are expected to set out today how this will be done.
The vote came shortly before Mrs May kicked off a five-day debate ahead of the December 11 “meaningful vote” with a speech lasting more than an hour in which she told MPs she had delivered “the very best deal for the British people” and backed it “with my whole heart”.
Before the prime minister appeared at the despatch box, her government had gone down to defeat for the third time in an hour.
MPs backed a move that could put parliament in the driving seat if the Brexit deal is rejected on December 11 by giving the Commons the power to amend a motion that Mrs May would be required to make within the following 21 days to set out the government’s next steps.
Some 26 Tory MPs – including former ministers Sir Michael Fallon, Damian Green and Sir Oliver Letwin – rebelled on the amendment tabled by ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve.
This could open the door for the Commons to throw its weight behind a Norway-style soft Brexit or even a second EU referendum, though prominent Leave-backing MPs questioned whether any such vote would be binding on ministers.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the finding of contempt was “a badge of shame” for the government, with “huge constitutional and political significance”.
“By treating parliament with contempt, the government has proved it has lost its majority and the respect of the House,” Sir Keir said.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable repeated calls for a second EU referendum, saying: “Theresa May’s majority has evaporated and the credibility of her deal is evaporating with it.”
Asked if Mrs May still felt she could command a majority in the Commons for the crunch vote next Tuesday, a Downing Street source said: “Everybody knows the parliamentary arithmetic.”
By treating parliament with contempt, the government has proved it has lost its majority and the respect of the House. SIR KEIR STARMER, LABOUR SHADOW BREXIT SECRETARY
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the House of Commons as the debate begins.