Andrea Leadsom confirms May WILL publish final legal advice on deal
‘They will live to regret it’: Furious Andrea Leadsom confirms May WILL publish final legal advice on her deal after historic triple defeat gave MPs the power to call for a second referendum or even a HALT to Brexit
- Theresa May suffered historic triple defeat in the House of Commons last night
- Commons leader confirmed the final legal advice on the deal would be released
- Andrea Leadsom said publishing the document set a dangerous preceden
- May will be back at the Despatch Box at noon for PMQs after bruising defeats
- Ministers hope another defeat by Tory Remain rebels could deter Brexiteers
- But another Leave MP Tory Mark Harper went public against the deal today
MPs were warned they would live to ‘regret’ forcing the Government to publish the final legal advice on the Brexit deal today.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed it would be published around 11.30am today after Theresa May suffered an historic triple defeat in the Commons.
Both Leave and Remain MPs want the advice amid suspicion Attorney General Geoffrey Cox gave a bleaker assessment of how the deal works privately to Cabinet than he revealed publicly on Monday.
Mrs Leadsom said ministers would now follow the orders of Parliament but said it undermined ‘decades if not centuries of convention’ where ministers received advice from the law officers in secret.
She said: ‘I think any parliamentarian who wants at some point in the future to be in Government is going to live to regret their vote last night.’
As Mrs May and her deal face near certain defeat next week Mrs Leadomson insisted she was the right leader ‘at the moment’.
The latest blow to Mrs May’s Brexit plan comes after yesterday’s historic triple defeat in the Commons lobbies.
The Prime Minister will face MPs again today as she returns to the Despatch Box for PMQs at noon.
In the most damaging defeat, 26 Tory rebels sided with Labour to push through an amendment that would let MPs step in if her deal is defeated next week.
The five-day Brexit deal debate will continue this afternoon after is adjourned at just after 1am this morning.
Mrs May’s ailing hopes of winning the vote on Tuesday took another blow today as former chief whip Mark Harper joined the ranks of Tory MPs pledged to vote No.
Mr Harper demanded the PM ‘listen to Conservative colleagues’ and tell Brussels to strip the Irish border backstop out of the deal.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed it would be published around 11.30am today with ‘regret’ after Theresa May (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) suffered an historic triple defeat in the Commons.
Mrs Leadsom (pictured in Westminster today) said ministers would follow the orders of Parliament but said it undermined ‘decades if not centuries of convention’.
Mrs Leadsom told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It was incredibly disappointing that the House of Commons decided to vote in effect to overturn what has been decades, if not centuries, of conventions whereby the law officer’s advice to Cabinet and to ministers are not even acknowledged, let alone published.
What new powers do MPs now have?
Tory rebels led by Dominic Grieve won a major new power for MPs last night.
If and when Theresa May’s deal is defeated next week, the Government is required by law to show a plan for what happens next to MPs and hold a vote within 21 days.
This was supposed to be unamendable and a simple statement of what the Prime Minister would do now.
But Mr Grieve and another 25 Tory MPs forced a change in last night’s vote.
The next steps motion can now be re-written, meaning a majority of MPs could call for a second referendum or even a total halt to Brexit.
MPs could also order ministers to pursue a Plan B Brexit based on Norway’s relationship with the EU – a deal much closer than Mrs May’s but which has cross party support.
The instruction would not be legally binding but would have huge political power.
‘The Attorney General had come to the House for two-and-a-half hours, which is also unprecedented in these many years, to answer questions to give his very best legal advice.
‘He published a 48-page document that outlined all of the legal impact of the Withdrawal Agreement, so the vote yesterday of the House to require the specific legal advice to Cabinet we will comply with, but not without some regret.’
Mrs Leadsom continued: ‘Going forward, not only will Government ministers be very careful about what they ask law officers to give advice on, but law officers themselves will be very reluctant to give any advice to Government that they might then see published on the front pages of the newspapers, so it’s the principle of the thing.
‘And frankly I think any parliamentarian who wants at some point in the future to be in Government is going to live to regret their vote last night.’
Mrs Leadsom said the impact of Mr Grieve’s amendment could make a no deal Brexit both more and less likely, depending on how MPs react.
She said MPs should vote for Mrs May’s deal because while it was not perfect was the ‘best combination we are going to get’.
Admitting she was unhappy with the Irish border backstop, she insisted it was also ‘not in the EU’s interest’ for Britain to be locked into it indefinitely.’
Mrs May’s ailing hopes of winning the vote on Tuesday took another blow today as former chief whip Mark Harper (file image) joined the ranks of Tory MPs pledged to vote No
Last night, Mrs May tried to keep her plan alive with a rousing speech to the Commons, in which she warned ‘Brexit could be stopped’ entirely if it is voted down on Tuesday.
She acknowledged criticism of her ‘compromise’ deal, but said: ‘We should not let the search for the perfect Brexit prevent a good Brexit that delivers for the British people.
‘And we should not contemplate a course that fails to respect the result of the referendum, because it would decimate the trust of millions of people in our politics for a generation.’
Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, led the rebellion which could effectively takes a no-deal exit off the table.
He claimed it could lead to a second referendum, adding: ‘MPs are tonight starting the process of taking back control.’
Downing Street must now hope that the threat of Parliament blocking a no-deal Brexit convinces some Eurosceptic opponents of her deal to change their minds before the meaningful vote.
However, a number of high profile, and previously loyal, Tory MPs rebelled during the series of defeats last night – including Michael Fallon and Damian Green.
And in a clear indication that the Prime Minister’s ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the DUP is fractured beyond repair, the Northern Irish party warned her it did not fear another election.
Downing Street had hoped the threat of a general election would bring the DUP to heel, because it could bring the pro-Nationalist Jeremy Corbyn to power.
But the party voted against the Government last night, with Nigel Dodds, the party’s Westminster leader, telling Mrs May his party was ready to spark another poll. He added: ‘I’m certain we will be returned in greater numbers.’
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (pictured in the Commons yesterday) had faced the prospect of being suspended from parliament after he refused to publish the legal advice
In other developments in yesterday’s day of drama:
- The PM promised to listen to Tory MPs worried about the so-called Irish backstop, saying she would ‘consider how we can go further’ to reassure it will not leave the UK in a customs union in the long term;
- Mrs May also offered to give MPs a ‘more formal role’ in steering the trade talks with the EU after the UK has left next year;
- Tory shop steward Sir Graham Brady said he accepted the need for compromise, but urged Mrs May ‘in the strongest possible terms’ to identify a clear route out of the backstop;
- Boris Johnson was heckled by moderate Tories as he attacked Mrs May’s plan and urged MPs to vote against it next week;
- Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted next week’s crunch vote would be close and dismissed ‘ridiculously inflated’ claims about the scale of the rebellion;
- A senior Toyota executive warned a no-deal Brexit could result in ‘stop-start production’ for weeks or months at its UK plant;
- Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned such a course could result in food prices rising by 10 per cent;
- The European Court of Justice’s senior lawyer said Article 50, which started the Brexit process, could be revoked unilaterally by the UK;
- The BBC dropped plans for a televised Brexit showdown involving Mrs May and Mr Corbyn on Sunday night;
- Brexiteer Cabinet minister Chris Grayling publicly backed Mrs May’s deal for the first time.
What happened in the day of drama in the Brexit battle?
By Jack Doyle
What happened yesterday?
The Government lost three votes in a day, the first time that has happened since 1996 – an ominous date for the Tory Party which went on to face catastrophic electoral defeat the following year. The first two were on the Brexit legal advice given to Cabinet by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
They were damaging, but not disastrous. The third, which is potentially much more significant, was on an amendment, proposed by leading Remainer Tory rebel Dominic Grieve, setting out what could happen if Theresa May’s deal is voted down next week. It could, in theory, give MPs vast leverage over the next steps on Brexit.
Why is the legal advice vote significant?
Last month the Commons demanded the full legal advice be published. Ministers refused. Yesterday MPs voted to declare this decision a contempt of Parliament – a serious form of legal admonishment.
To avoid the prospect of ministers being suspended by the House, the Government rolled over and agreed to release the document today. No 10 fought tooth and nail to resist publishing, warning to do so would be ‘against the national interest’ and breach historic conventions. To placate MPs, Mr Cox made a statement to Parliament describing what it said and published a summary.
Much of the document will be familiar, but it will make plain the gravity of Mr Cox’s warnings about the UK being trapped in the Northern Ireland backstop, potentially hardening opposition to the deal among rebel Tory MPs.
What does the Grieve amendment mean?
Following an earlier row this summer, Mr Grieve won a concession that if the deal falls, the Government will have to come back to the Commons within three weeks to set out what course it will then take.
As a result of yesterday’s vote, MPs will now be able to propose what alternative course of action the Government should take by making amendments to the motion and voting on them.
Almost inevitably, the likely proposals will include the UK staying in a permanent customs union, or membership of the single market, or both – or a second referendum.
For its supporters, this makes ‘no deal’ impossible as the Commons – which is overwhelmingly opposed to crashing out – would immediately make clear its disapproval. Some hardline Brexiteers deny this, arguing that any amendment would not be legally binding on the Prime Minister. In theory this is true, but any such vote would heap huge political pressure on the Government to comply.
Where does this all leave us?
With nearly 100 MPs publicly expressing their doubts about the deal, its chances of passing on Tuesday already appeared slim. Losing a string of votes exposes just how weak Mrs May’s grip on a fractious and volatile Parliament has become. With this in mind, the Grieve amendment could be hugely significant.
If it is seen to reduce the chances of a no-deal Brexit, could it yet convince hardline Eurosceptic rebels they should back Mrs May’s deal?
Or will they press on, with the danger that the future of Brexit falls into the hands of a Remain-dominated Parliament which is flexing its muscles more every day and could yet find a way to sink Brexit altogether?
In her speech last night the PM admitted that both Remainers and Brexiteers have been left dissatisfied by parts of her deal.
But she said the ‘hard truth’ is that the compromise she has thrashed out with Brussels is the only deal which delivers on the historic vote and protects jobs.
She said: ‘I know there are some in this House and in the country who would prefer a closer relationship with the European Union than the one I’m proposing, indeed who would prefer the relationship that we currently have and want another referendum.
Who are the 26 Tory rebels who voted for Dominic Grieve’s amendment?
Here are the 26 Tory rebels who voted for Dominic Grieve’s amendment which allows MPs to tell the Government what to do in Brexit talks if the PM’s deal is voted down
‘Although I profoundly disagree, they are arguing for what they believe is right for our country and I respect that.
‘But the hard truth is that we will not settle this issue and bring our country together that way and I ask them to think what it would say to the 52 per cent who came out to vote Leave, in many cases for the first time in decades, if their decision were ignored.’
The PM added: ‘There are others in this House who would prefer a more distant relationship than the one I’m proposing and although I don’t agree, I know they’re also arguing for what they think is best for our future and I respect that too.
‘But the hard truth is also that we will not settle this issue and bring our country together if in delivering Brexit we do not protect the trade and security cooperation on which so many jobs and lives depend, completely ignoring the views of the 48 per cent.
Mrs May said the ‘only solution that will endure’ is one that addresses the concerns of both sides of the debate.
But she faced a fiery Commons session as leading Brexiteers lashed her plan, while the DUP – who are propping the Tories up in No10 – said they would be happy to have another general election.
Boris Johnson, who has become the PM’s fiercest critic since quitting as Foreign Secretary over her Brexit plan, said the deal is a failure.
He told the Commons: ‘I can’t believe there is a single member of this House who sincerely believes that this is a good deal for the UK.
‘You can tell that the government’s hearts are not in it
‘You can tell that they know it is a disaster because after two and a half years this deal has done an amazing thing it has brought us together – remainers and leavers in the belief that it is a national humiliation that makes a mockery of Brexit.
‘There will be no proper free trade deals. We will not take back control of our laws and for the government to continue to suggest otherwise is to do violence to the normal meaning of words.
‘We will give up £39bn for nothing. We will not really be taking back control of our borders.’
While Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader has said he would be ‘happy’ to have another general election to prove the party has support in Northern Ireland for blocking the PM’s Brexit deal.
He said: ‘We will happily go to the electorate and put our views to the people if needs be, and I’m quite certain we would be returned in greater numbers than today.’
A slew of MPs had condemned ministers for refusing to release the full Brexit deal legal advice in a fiery Commons showdown today.
It had pitted Mrs May’s authority and support against the accumulated strength of her opposition – which spanned both Brexiteers and Remainers.
But admitting defeat and announcing the legal advice will be published tomorrow, Mrs Leadsom said: ‘We have tested the opinion of the House twice on this very serious subject…
‘We will publish the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to Cabinet.’
The dramatic row erupted after the Government refused to publish the full legal advice despite losing a vote in the Commons last month requiring them to.
Instead they said published a ‘full reasoned position’ laying out a summary of the legal advice.
But critics accused ministers of keeping secret the most explosive parts of Mr Cox’s advice.
Sir Keir warned that ministers were committing contempt of Parliament and used the arcane parliamentary tactics to heap pressure on No10.
If Mrs May had still refused to publish the legal advice then MPs would have debated how to enforce their contempt motion in a debate tomorrow.
They could have voted to hold specific named minsters responsible and to mete out punishments to them – including suspending them from Parliament.
Cabinet Minister Mrs Leadsom said the Government was defending an important principle that legal advice should stay confidential.
And she warned that while the Government will publish the full legal advice, they are very alarmed at the use of arcane parliamentary procedure to force them to publish secret information.
She said she has written to the Privileges Committee to ask them to investigate the phenomenon.
A government-backed amendment to kill off the attempt to hold Mr Cox in contempt by sending the matter to the Privileges Committee was defeated by 311 votes to 307.
Kicking off the constitutional clash in the the chamber this afternoon, Sir Keir accused ministers of ignoring a ‘binding motion’ passed by the Commons.
‘That is contempt,’ he said.
The standoff between the House and the government is thought to be unprecedented in modern times.
Ministers had insisted legal confidentiality is an important point of principle and revealing the material would hurt the national interest.
Instead they published a 40-plus page assessment of the package thrashed out with Brussels.
Mr Cox, who is the Government’s chief legal adviser, had staunchly defended the decision to withhold the advice in a marathon appearance in the House – telling MPs ‘there is nothing to see here’.
Mr Cox had asked MPs to suppose the advice included details on relationships with foreign states and arguments that might be deployed in the future, noting: ‘Would it be right for the Attorney General, regardless of the harm to the public interest, to divulge his opinion.
‘I say it wouldn’t.’
But MPs are convinced that the most explosive parts of his legal advice has been kept secret.
The Sunday Times said in a letter sent last month to Cabinet ministers, he advised the only way out of the backstop – designed to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic – once it was invoked was to sign a new trade deal, a process which could take years.
‘The protocol would endure indefinitely,’ he apparently wrote.
The letter was said to be so sensitive that ministers were given numbered copies to read which they were not allowed to take from the room afterwards.
In a day of high political drama, Mr Grieve’s amendment to hand power to MPs if the PM’s Brexit deal is voted down next week was passed with the help of over two dozen Tory rebels.
If – as widely expected – the PM fails to get her deal approved she must return to the Commons within 21 days to give a statement on what she will do next.
The amendment allows MPs to amend this motion – effectively giving them the power to tell ministers what to do.
Critics insist that the instructions will not be legally binding, but it would pile so much pressure on ministers it may be politically impossible for them to ignore the demands.
And the BBC confirmed it had dropped plans for the televised Brexit head to head between Mrs May and Mr Corbyn after labour refused to sign up to it.
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