Monday 3 December 2018 / 6:00 PM Brexit / Keir Starmer

Labour leads cross-party alliance calling on the Speaker to launch contempt proceedings against the Government

A cross-party alliance has today written to the Speaker of the House of Commons asking him to consider launching contempt proceedings against the Government for failing to release the Attorney General’s full legal advice on the Brexit deal as ordered by Parliament.

The letter of complaint will now be considered by the Speaker who will decide whether at first glance there is a case of contempt and whether the matter should be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Keir Starmer, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, said: “The Government has failed to publish the Attorney General’s full and final legal advice to the Cabinet, as ordered by Parliament. We have therefore been left with no option but to write to the Speaker of the House of Commons to ask him to launch proceedings of contempt.”

A full copy of the letter is below:

Dear Mr Speaker,

Contempt of Parliament

We are writing to request that you consider giving precedence to a motion being placed before the House of Commons that the Government has held Parliament in contempt.

On 13 November 2018 the House debated the following motion:

“That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the following papers be laid before Parliament: any legal advice in full, including that provided by the Attorney General, on the proposed withdrawal agreement on the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union including the Northern Ireland backstop and framework for a future relationship between the UK and the European Union.”

During the debate on that motion Labour’s frontbench made it clear that:

“the motion requires the publication of the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the terms of any withdrawal agreement. This must be made available to all MPs. It is to be published after any withdrawal agreement is reached with the EU, but in good time to allow proper consideration before MPs are asked to vote on the deal.”

The motion passed unanimously and was not opposed by the Government. After the motion was passed you ruled that:

“the motion is effective — I have been advised thus. It is not just an expression of the opinion of the House; it is an expression of the will of the House that certain documents should be provided to it.”

The Government did not oppose this motion. We therefore expected the Government to comply to it by:

  • Publishing the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to Cabinet concerning the terms of any withdrawal agreement.
  • Making sure the information is available to all MPs.
  • Ensuring the information is published after any withdrawal agreement is reached with the EU but in good time to allow proper consideration before MPs are asked to vote on a deal.

These demands were reiterated in a letter from Keir Starmer to David Lidington on 27 November.

Neither a “reasoned position statement” nor a document “setting out the Government’s legal position” 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. It was the concession offered by the Government during the debate, but it was rejected – and ministers made no attempt to amend or oppose the motion for debate.

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.

Yours sincerely,

 

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