Theresa May facing House of Commons battle over release of Brexit legal advice
Theresa May has been warned she risks creating a “constitutional crisis” if the government fails to release the full legal advice it has received on the Brexit agreement thrashed out by the prime minister in Brussels.
Opposition parties are threatening to launch contempt of parliament proceedings against Downing Street over the issue, with MPs voting last month to ensure the government would be required to lay before parliament “any legal advice in full”, including that given by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
Ministers have since indicated that only a “full reasoned political statement” will be released, which shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti has said would represent a betrayal of parliamentary sovereignty.
She told Sky News: “If the government does not comply with the order the House of Commons passed on 13 November, that would be a very serious matter indeed – almost a constitutional crisis.”
Even the DUP – which props up the minority Conservative government at Westminster – is said to be ready to help prompt contempt proceedings, which would pile yet more pressure upon the prime minister with little more than a week to go before parliament votes on the deal she struck last month.
Mr Cox will make a statement to the Commons and answer questions from MPs on Monday, but it is unlikely to satisfy leading figures on both sides of the Brexit debate.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has said Labour will join with other parties in initiating contempt proceedings if the full advice is not released, while former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has used his Daily Telegraph column to further criticise the withholding of details.
Whatever happens on Monday, the prime minister – who will address the Commons on Monday afternoon to update MPs on the G20 summit in Argentina – still faces an uphill task to save her Brexit deal.
Mr Starmer told Sky News it was “inevitable” Labour would try to oust Mrs May if she loses a potentially historic vote in the Commons on 11 December – two days after she is due to take part in a TV debate with Jeremy Corbyn.
There is still disagreement over the format of the programme, with the Labour leader indicating that he will only go with the Conservatives’ preference for a BBC debate if it is a straight head-to-head.
BBC also wants leaders to take questions from a wider panel and Downing Street has accused Mr Corbyn of “running scared” by so far refusing to sign up.
Neither of the BBC and ITV proposals have proved popular with other parties, with Sir Vince Cable accusing both of excluding other viewpoints.
In a letter to Sky, BBC and ITV, the Liberal Democrat leader said: “The principal alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement is for the UK to remain as a full and influential member of the European Union.”
According to reports, leading Brexiteers including Mr Johnson and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab have also criticised the planned debate.
They are among a number of ex-cabinet ministers said to have written a letter to BBC chairman Sir David Clementi to complain the views of the 17.4 million Leave voters would be “nowhere represented” in the discussion.
There will also be no room on the debate podium for SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who is travelling south to London in a bid to persuade MPs to try and secure an extension to Article 50.
Speaking on Sunday, Ms Sturgeon said: “The last week has been a watershed moment in the Brexit process.
“Having now finally published its own official analysis of the economic consequences of Brexit, the UK government can no longer hide behind their own spin – it is clear that any kind of Brexit will make Scotland and the UK poorer.
“The reality is the best deal is remaining in the EU, which is exactly what the people of Scotland voted for.”
As for Northern Ireland, the chief Brexit adviser to the prime minister has reportedly told her in a secret letter that the backstop agreed in her withdrawal deal represents a “bad outcome” for Britain.
The correspondence – leaked to The Daily Telegraph – warned Mrs May that the backstop would mean the imposition of regulatory checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
It is intended to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic.
Despite it all, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said on Sunday he believed the government could still win the parliamentary vote next week.
Mr Gove, one of the leaders of the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, urged fellow Brexiteers to back the agreement warning the alternative was “no deal or no Brexit”.
He said that if the government lost the vote there was a “real risk” there could be a majority in the Commons for a second referendum.