Cabinet minister facing suspension from Commons after UK Government fails to publish Brexit legal advice

Written by Kevin Schofield on 4 December 2018 in News

Tory MPs then filibustered a routine debate on Scotland's foreign policy to give the Government time to table an amendment to the contempt motion

John Bercow - image credit: BBC

A top Cabinet minister could be suspended from the Commons after John Bercow ruled the UK Government may be in contempt of Parliament for failing to publish its full Brexit legal advice.

The Speaker said there was an "arguable" case that ministers are guilty of not complying with a motion approved by MPs last month.

An emergency debate and vote will take place later today which could see the matter referred to the Committee on Privileges.

If they were to find that the Government was in contempt, a senior minister - most likely to be attorney general Geoffrey Cox or de facto deputy Prime Minister David Lidington - could be suspended from the Commons.

In farcical scenes, Tory MPs then filibustered a routine debate on Scotland's foreign policy to give the Government time to table an amendment to the contempt motion. If that were passed, the issue would be kicked into the long grass until after next week's crunch vote on the Brexit deal.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell tweeted: "Conservatives now scraping the bottom of the political barrel in Parliamentary tactics to survive. We are witnessing the unedifying spectacle of the undignified disintegration of a government that no longer deserves to be in office."

The bitter row was sparked yesterday after Cox published a 52-page "reasoned position statement" of the Brexit deal struck between Theresa May and the EU, rather than the full legal advice he has given the Cabinet.

A letter was then sent to Bercow by Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the DUP - who Theresa May relies on to prop up her government - accusing ministers of being in contempt.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: "The Government has failed to publish the attorney general’s full and final legal advice to the cabinet, as ordered by Parliament.

"We have therefore been left with no option but to write to the Speaker of the House of Commons to ask him to launch proceedings of contempt."

Ruling on the matter last night, the Speaker said: "I have considered the matter carefully and I am satisfied that there is an arguable case that a contempt has been committed. I'm therefore giving precedence for a motion to be tabled tonight before the House rises and to be taken as first business tomorrow."

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