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‘Arguable case’ government committed contempt over Brexit legal advice



The government may have broken parliamentary rules by failing to fully release legal advice over the Brexit deal, according to John Bercow.

The House of Commons Speaker announced MPs would get a chance to debate and vote on the matter first thing on Tuesday.

The repercussions of an MP being found in contempt can include them being suspended or expelled from parliament.

Speaker Bercow in the Commons
Speaker John Bercow said there was an ‘arguable case’ of contempt

It came in response to a letter from six political parties, including Labour and minority government partners the DUP.

They are fighting the government’s chief legal adviser’s decision to publish just a summary of legal advice on the Brexit divorce deal.

:: Brexit legal advice summary – what you need to know

Their complaint to Mr Bercow said a 52-page summary of the advice “does not comply” with a Commons vote last month, which demanded the full text be released.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox was dispatched to field MPs’ questions and promised he would answer whatever they wanted to know.

But he refused to publish the legal advice in full, insisting “there is nothing to see here” and that doing so would not be in the “public interest”.

He appeared to resign himself to the prospect of fighting the decision, admitting MPs “can bring a motion of contempt… I fully accept that”.

:: Brexit deal – how is your MP expected to vote?


Brexit secretary: ‘Backstop is uncomfortable’

As soon as the nearly two-and-a-half hour grilling was over, Labour’s shadow solicitor general stood up to demand a debate on the government being in contempt of parliament.

Mr Bercow promised a “rapid decision” – and came back with one just over two hours later.

He revealed he had received a letter from Mr Cox “within the last 10 minutes” and announced the contempt motion would be discussed just before the first debate on the Brexit divorce deal.

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Attorney general: Irish backstop is indefinite

MPs are set to vote on whether to approve Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal after five days of debate – culminating in crucial votes next Wednesday.

Punishments for contempt of parliament are rare but not unheard of.

In 2016, Conservative MP Justin Tomlinson was suspended for two days for leaking a draft committee report.

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