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Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:36 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire 1:36 pm, 4th December 2018

I do believe that the two issues were conflated and that that was used to argue for revealing the legal information on the wrong predication.

I have been in a quandary about the vote today. I would like to see the full legal evidence, as I am sure everybody in the House would, but there are conventions and other people to consider, and civil servants fall into that category. They serve us all with true and absolute independence. I do not know how any Government would ever be in this place if we could not depend absolutely on the impartial legal advice we receive from civil servants. If this motion was passed today, what civil servant or legal adviser would ever want to advise any future Government without first putting in place a filter of self-preservation, by considering the advice they give? Who would want to do that as a civil servant? Although I would love to see this legal advice, we have a duty to consider others: the people who serve both the public and us. I have 100% respect for civil servants. They work amazingly hard; they are truly independent; and they serve us without any political bias, and that should absolutely be considered.

On the public interest and the points the Attorney General made yesterday, none of us, apart from him and a select few, knows whether there are any issues in that legal advice that pertain to intelligence, national security or any other of those issues. I have to assume only that when he spoke yesterday about public interest, he was talking in the much broader context. This is an important issue. As he said yesterday,

“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.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2018;
Vol. 650, c. 557.]

Given what happened with the publication of the summary of the legal advice during the Iraq war, this inevitability that is happening today should have been foreseen then. We live in a changing world, one where people demand transparency and have a right to know all the full information. I believe that a resolution should have been passed in this House to give powers to this House—after all, Parliament is a court—and a process in this House whereby this House, probably through the authority of your office, Mr Speaker, via the Clerks and independent judicial advice, should be able to take a decision and redact matters of national intelligence and security from legal advice, so that people in this House can see legal advice. I hope that as a result of what has happened today, and given that demands to see legal advice will be made again in the future, the House will take cognisance of that and decide to pass a resolution that will ensure that we do not find ourselves in this position again.

As far as I am concerned, we have been told the worst; the Attorney General pulled no punches. He said:

“There is nothing to see here.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2018;
Vol. 650, c. 557.]

But he told us what needed to be seen, so let me again quote his words. He said:

“There is therefore no unilateral right for either party to terminate this arrangement. This means that if no superseding agreement can be reached within the implementation period, the protocol would be activated and in international law would subsist even if negotiations had broken down.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2018;
Vol. 650, c. 547.]

He told us the worst: we will be in the backstop in perpetuity. That was as bad as it gets. If we cannot withdraw from the backstop following the decision of this House, we are trapped, as somebody said from a sedentary position yesterday. I believe that no MP with any conscience, given what the Attorney General told us yesterday, could vote for the withdrawal agreement, because he pulled no punches—he told us the worst it can be. I commend him for that.

I want to finish, because I have to, with a comment about us. I listened to Keir Starmer when he said what he said at the Dispatch Box. One day, and I hope he is white in hair and long in tooth before he gets there, he may be the Attorney General, and his words may come back to haunt him at some time in the future. I have watched him many times and I could see that thought going through his mind. As a former legal adviser to one of most eminent law firms in the country, he knows full well, when stands at that Dispatch Box, what he is saying and what he is doing. I hope you never find yourself in the position that you have put our Attorney General in. I would like to finish—