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Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:59 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 12:59 pm, 4th December 2018

I beg to move amendment (a), leave out from “House” to the end and insert:

“refers to the Committee of Privileges the question of whether the Government’s response fulfils the motion passed on 13 November 2018 and requests the Committee to consider the constitutional and historic context and the proper use, ambit and scope of the motion for return procedure.”

I want to start by thanking my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for putting himself at the disposal of the House yesterday for over two hours, to provide information about the legal impact of the withdrawal agreement. He did so with his characteristic candour and integrity. The use of this motion has happened very rarely in the history of Parliament, and I do not think that any Member can be in any doubt that the information that the Attorney General provided yesterday was a very frank assessment of the legal position. The questions posed by Members on both sides of the House addressed the key issues we must all consider on the legal effects of the withdrawal agreement. My right hon. and learned Friend responded to all those questions in comprehensive fashion.

Alongside yesterday’s session of nearly two and a half hours, the Government have also provided a 48-page legal commentary that sets out the legal effect of each part of the withdrawal agreement. The information provided to the House is the detailed legal position on the withdrawal agreement and, as the Attorney General said to the House yesterday, he continues to be at the disposal of parliamentarians to answer further questions.

I would, therefore, in responding to the contempt motion before us today, urge the House to exercise caution in this matter. The issue at hand is not one of substantive content. As yesterday’s questioning illustrated, there is no real dispute as to the meaning and legal effect of the withdrawal agreement. The Attorney General could not have been clearer about the legal position yesterday. No hon. Member could say in all honesty that the Attorney General has done anything other than treat this House with the greatest respect. There can be no question that he, or the Government, has acted in a manner that is contemptuous of this House.