Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Position

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

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

Well, of course, when a request comes from the quarter from which it has just come, I will always want to re-examine the assumptions that I have made, but I have to say to my hon. Friend that the problem here is that it cannot be right that the House, by means of such a motion, has the power, blind, to call for any matter that has been discussed in connection with the Government of this country. Where does it end? [Interruption.] Just wait a minute. I am trying to do my best. Where do the limits of this power end? Does it extend to Cabinet minutes? Does it extend to the papers of the secret intelligence service? Is the House, by means of this motion, to command any paper of any kind, central to the interests of this nation, without even being able to check that, by its release, it is causing, or might cause, severe damage to the public interest? I invite my hon. Friend to consider the implications of the absolute rule that he is talking about. It cannot be right and if one looks at previous versions—[Interruption.] If one looks at previous versions of “Erskine May”, one sees that the motion to return is confined to documents of public and official character. If there are good reasons of public policy why those papers should not be disclosed, then the House will either withdraw or rescind its motion.

In this case, I am convinced that to disclose any advice that might have been given would be fundamentally contrary to the interests of this country. [Interruption.] I say to Labour Members that there is no use baying and shouting. What I am trying to do is guard the public interest—that is all. It is time that they grew up and got real. If there were a single item that I thought might be politically embarrassing, I would have no truck with the idea that this advice or any that I might have been given should be disclosed. It is because the public interest is at stake. What part of that proposition is the Labour party incapable of understanding?