Theresa May’s Government forced to publish its Brexit legal advice after suffering Commons defeat

Theresa May’s Government has suffered a new blow with MPs finding it in “contempt” for failing to publish its full legal advice on the Brexit deal.

The Government suffered a crushing defeat when MPs voted by 311 to 293.

The Attorney General’s legal advice will be published on Wednesday.

This comes as MPs debate the Withdrawal Agreement Mrs May has negotiated with the EU ahead of a crunch vote on December 11.

MPs want to know what the legal advice says will happen if the UK cannot agree a long-term deal with the EU by the end of the post-Brexit transition period, which is due to conclude at the end of 2020. Will the UK be able to unilaterally exit the so-called “backstop” arrangements – that would keep the UK in a de facto customs union in order to prevent a hard border in Ireland – which are due to kick-in in such a situation?

A Government attempt to effectively kick the issue into the long grass by referring it to the Commons Privileges Committee was defeated by 311 votes to 307.

The defeats will not make life any easier for Theresa May as she battles to persuade a majority of her own MPs to back the Withdrawal Agreement in next week’s “meaningful vote”.

The vote came shortly after the BBC announced it had not been able to agree a format for a television debate between Mrs May and the UK Labour leader. The PM had backed the BBC’s proposals but Labour said she was “running away from the scrutiny of a head to head debate with Jeremy Corbyn”.

Cardiff South and Penarth Labour MP Stephen Doughty – a prominent campaigner for a second referendum – described the scenes in Parliament as “extraordinary and historic”.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: “Today’s finding of contempt is a badge of shame for this Government. It is of huge constitutional and political significance.

“Never before has the House of Commons found ministers in contempt of Parliament. It is highly regrettable that the Government has let it come to this, but ministers left the opposition with no option but to bring forward these proceedings.

“By treating Parliament with contempt, the Government has proved it has lost its majority and the respect of the House. The Prime Minister can’t keep pushing Parliament away or avoiding responsible scrutiny.”

The defeat is the latest reminder for the Government that the DUP – the Northern Ireland party that has kept the Conservatives in power – will not come to its rescue on Brexit.

Ahead of the defeats, DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds attacked the Government for refusing to release the full legal advice despite the demands of the Commons.

He said it was not up to Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to determine whether it was “in the national interest” to publish the advice.

Fellow DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the “secret approach only confirms in people’s minds that there’s something to hide”.

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