Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:34 am on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 10:34 am, 29th November 2018

Not good enough.

Mr Speaker, nobody who was present in the debate on 13 November, including the Solicitor General, could be in any doubt about what the House was asking for. During that debate I stated 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.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2018;
Vol. 649, c. 235.]

The motion was passed unanimously on those terms, and when it was passed, I made it clear that those were its terms.

It was perfectly clear to Ministers, including the Solicitor General who spoke at the end of the debate, that the House was not asking for a position paper or a summary of the Attorney General’s advice. That was the offer made from the Dispatch Box during the debate, and it was roundly rejected, as the Solicitor General knows full well. The binding motion that was passed was for nothing less than for the full and final legal advice provided by the Attorney General. It is therefore wholly unacceptable, and frankly shows contempt for this House, for Ministers, including the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box yesterday, now to pretend that the House was asking only for partial or qualified legal advice. If the Government are not willing to comply with the order of the House, why did they and the Solicitor General not vote against the motion?

In 12 days’ time, this House will have to take the most important decision it has taken for a generation, and MPs are entitled to know the full legal consequences of the deal that the Prime Minister is asking them to support. That is why the order was made, and why it must be complied with. Throughout the Brexit process, the Government have repeatedly tried to sideline and push Parliament away. If they now intend to ignore Parliament altogether, they will get into very deep water indeed. I urge the Solicitor General to think again and to comply with the order of the House.