EU (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act: Implementation

Attorney General – in the House of Commons on 3rd October 2019.

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Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implementation of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I cannot, as the hon. Lady will know, comment on the content of Cabinet discussions, but she will understand that I regularly meet ministerial colleagues to discuss important issues of common interest. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the detail of those discussions, and I am bound by the convention that neither the fact nor content of Law Officers’ advice is disclosed outside of the Government. I make it clear to the hon. Lady that the Government will obey the law, the Prime Minister is subject to the law, and this Government will comply with it.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

Notwithstanding all that, I am going to ask the Attorney General a nice yes-no question. The Act requires the Prime Minister to ask for an extension unless Parliament has agreed a withdrawal agreement or agreed to leave without one, so will the Attorney General confirm that, if Parliament has not done either of those things, the Prime Minister would be acting unlawfully if he nevertheless took us out of the EU on 31 October? Yes or no?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

What I can confirm to the hon. Lady is that the Government will obey the law.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

If Parliament agrees a deal, does that satisfy what is known as the Benn amendment?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

If Parliament agrees a deal, having had one brought before this House, that fulfils one of the conditions that means that no extension has to be sought.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Hypothetically speaking, if the Government were seen to be breaking the law, who would arrest the Prime Minister? Would it be the Met?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I do not think it is for me to comment on ridiculous speculations and hypotheticals of that kind, but it is good to see the hon. Gentleman looking calmer this morning.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Will the Attorney General confirm that the Government can both comply with the law and leave the EU without a deal on 31 October?

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

When asked, the Attorney General said that his Government would be adhering to the Benn Act. A day later, when asked by me and others the Prime Minister prevaricated until the end. But when he was asked by Ian Murray whether he would comply with the law, the Prime Minister’s answer was a simple and quite astonishing no. Given the Attorney General’s previous answers this morning, will he confirm whether the Prime Minister was wrong?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I have not seen the response to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I can certainly confirm that the Government will comply with the law. I am not convinced that the Prime Minister said anything contrary to that; I would have to look at Hansard.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

I have the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 in front of me, so perhaps the Attorney General can confirm his interpretation of it. The Act is clear that, if this House has not approved a deal or if it has not approved leaving with no deal, the Prime Minister

“must seek to obtain from the European Council an extension” in the terms set out in the Act. Will the Attorney General confirm that that is what this Act of Parliament requires?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman has read it out, and he does not need any confirmation from me. He is a superbly competent lawyer—[Interruption.] So I am told by others on his side of the House. The reality is that the Government will comply with the law.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

I am afraid that confirmation is required from the Attorney General. Let me explain why. We keep being told that the Government will comply with the law, yet the Prime Minister goes around saying that he would rather be dead in a ditch than apply for the extension that he is required to seek under the Act. Does the Attorney General not realise that the Government’s ambiguous position towards the rule of law is damaging our justice system, our society and our international standing? Why does the Attorney General just stand by and let that happen?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

Because I am quite convinced and completely satisfied that this Government will obey the law.