Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Position

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 3rd December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General 4:49 pm, 3rd December 2018

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for that question. The truth is that I am caught in an acute clash of constitutional principle. A Minister is obliged to have regard to the public interest and the national interest. Let us suppose I had given any such advice that has been requested by Keir Starmer, and let us suppose that that advice had covered all sorts of matters, including our relationships with foreign states and including arguments that might be deployed in the future—and their strengths and weaknesses—and including matters of acute importance to this country; would it be right for the Attorney General, regardless of the harm to the public interest, to divulge his opinion? I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that it would not. There is no procedure by which this House can have redactions or entertain circumstances in which it could weigh the competing public interest against the interest in disclosure, as a judge would do. She knows what I mean. Therefore, I cannot take a step that I firmly and truly believe would be contrary to the public interest. I ask the House to understand that it is only that consideration that is motivating me and this Government in declining at this stage to break the convention that applies to both sides of the House when they are in government. There is nothing to see here. [Interruption.]