The UK government will publish in full legal advice it received regarding British Prime Minister Theresa May’s widely criticised Brexit deal after it was found to be in contempt of parliament for failing to originally do so.
In a landmark vote on Tuesday, parliamentarians in the lower chamber House of Commons backed a motion, tabled a day before by six parties, demanding full disclosure of the counsel by 311 votes to 293.
The vote marked the first time in history a UK government has been found in contempt of parliament.
Responding to the result, the ruling Conservative Party’s Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said the government intended to publish the advice on Wednesday.
“We have listened carefully and in light of the expressed will of the House, we will publish the final and full advice provided by the attorney general to cabinet,” Leadsom told parliament.
The issue will also be referred to the Commons’ Privileges Committee to determine which ministers are accountable for the alleged contempt and whether any subsequent punishment is required, she added.
An earlier attempt by ministers to head off the contempt motion by having the entire issue referred to the cross-party Privileges Committee was defeated by four votes.
‘Huge constitutional significance’
The main opposition Labour Party’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, claimed the decision was of “huge constitutional and political significance”.
“The motion makes clear the government must now publish the attorney general’s final legal advice in full,” Starmer said.
“I hope the government will now comply with that order,” he added.
Tuesday’s furore came after the government’s publication on Monday of a 52-page summary of the legal counsel it received regarding May’s Brexit plan.
In an address to parliament on Monday, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox claimed publishing the full extent of legal advice he provided the government over the deal would be “contrary to the public interest”.
“I am caught in an acute clash of constitutional principle,” Cox said.
“Let us suppose I had given advice … covering all sorts of matters, including our relationships with foreign states … including matters of acute importance to this country, 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.”
May, for her part, has said the full extent of advice received by her government over the Brexit deal is confidential under lawyer-client privilege.
The British leader kickstarted five days of parliamentary debate on her proposed withdrawal agreement with a statement to parliament on Tuesday.
Following the discussions, a so-called “meaningful vote” on May’s deal will take place on December 11 in the Commons.
Majority support would mean she can introduce a formal EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill to parliament for consideration and ratification in early 2019.
Majority opposition, however, would force her government to put forward a new plan within 21 days. A separate House of Commons vote on Tuesday determined that parliamentarians will have the right to amend any such motion.