Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West 2:22 pm, 4th December 2018

The question before us is whether there is additional information that was in the legal advice that is relevant and pertinent to the crucial question that we must ask ourselves in voting on the withdrawal agreement. Against that, the Government have suggested that there are security and national interest matters to defend. The motion says that Ministers should provide

“the final and full legal advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the EU Withdrawal Agreement and the framework”.

That does not imply that every email and every jot and tittle is required. In terms of national security and the national interest, that means that there is not a great risk.

The question is whether there is a reason to believe that critical legal advice has been withheld. I suggest that there is such a reason. Yesterday, I put it to the Attorney General, following advice from counsel in two chambers, that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 gives the Prime Minister the right to submit article 50 based on an advisory referendum, but if that referendum has been found to be conducted illegally and subject to cheating and lying, then the advice is flawed and so the notice should be withdrawn—and we have heard from the advocate general that in all probability it can be withdrawn. Was this advice tendered to the Government or discussed with them by the Attorney General? He did not mention it at all, and yet it is advice that is available. That suggests to me that the advice that has been given to this House is incomplete for us to draw our conclusions.

I turn to the argument that the Government should now revoke article 50 on the basis that the advisory referendum was flawed. First, we already know that the leave campaign misled the country during the referendum, deliberately or not. Secondly, multiple investigations by the Electoral Commission have found that the leave campaign broke campaign finance law. Thirdly, had those offences committed by the leave campaign been committed in a general or a local election, the result would have been legally void. Fourthly, the Government have a legal duty to take all relevant considerations into account when making a decision. Therefore, the fact that in any other election the referendum result would have been void due to one side’s illegal conduct is a relevant consideration when deciding whether to give effect to the result—that is, in ratifying the withdrawal agreement that would give Brexit effect.

In essence, then, the advice on the withdrawal agreement that the Attorney General should have considered would be whether the Government were failing in their duty by promoting an agreement when the animating factor of the agreement—the referendum—was so fundamentally compromised. Therefore, the Government are acting illegally by moving forward with Brexit without giving proper consideration to these facts. This whole debate and discussion was not included. Whether or not one agrees with it, this discussion would presumably have occurred within the ambit of the Attorney General, but we do not know that. That is a key reason to believe that the advice being given has been doctored for party political reasons. We need the full and latest advice.

As we have heard, the advocate general is saying that article 50 may be revocable. What was the view of the Attorney General given in the legal advice to the Government? We have not been told. The Attorney General must be aware of these points of law but has not listed them, and so we must conclude that he is withholding from the House relevant issues not for the national and public interest but for party political reasons, and is therefore in contempt of this House.