Attorney General slaps down Jacob Rees-Mogg over claim Supreme Court launched 'constitutional coup'

Posted On: 
25th September 2019

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has slapped down his Cabinet colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg over a claim that the Supreme Court had launched a "constitutional coup" against the Government.

The comments came as Number 10 said it “absolutely” had confidence in the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox
Credit: 
House of Commons/PA

Mr Cox - the Government's top legal adviser - flatly rejected that description as MPs returned to the Commons following the landmark decision by Britain's highest court that Boris Johnson's prorogation of Parliament had been unlawful.

According to the Daily Mail, Commons Leader Mr Rees-Mogg had told an emergency Cabinet call that the court's unanimous verdict amounted to a "constitutional coup" and argued that "some elements of the judgment are factually inaccurate".

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But, speaking as Mr Rees-Mogg sat next to him on the frontbench, Mr Cox told MPs: "I don't think it was a constitutional coup and I know the Right Honourable Gentleman will know that I do and I don't believe that anybody does. These things can be said in the heat of rhetorical and poetical license".

Although the Attorney General said he had taken the comments to be "a robust criticism of the judgement and nothing more", he added: "With the judgements we can be robustly critical. With the motives, we cannot." 

But, mounting an angry attack on MPs, he said: “This parliament is a disgrace. They could vote no confidence at any time but they’re too cowardly, they couldn’t agree to a motion to allow this House to dissolve but they’re too cowardly.

“This Parliament should have the courage to face the electorate but it won’t, it won’t, because so many of them are really all about preventing us leaving the European Union. But the time is coming when even these turkeys won’t be able to prevent Christmas.”

The comments came as Number 10 said it “absolutely” had confidence in the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, despite leaked legal advice revealing that he had advised the Cabinet that the plan to shut-down Parliament would be legal.

Downing Street said the Cabinet's top legal adviser had acted in "good faith" when he told Mr Johnson that the five-week shutdown of Parliament would not be against the law.

Legal advice seen by Sky News shows that Mr Cox had argued any accusations "of unlawfulness or constitutional outrage" would be "motivated by political considerations" as he advised the Cabinet that the shutdown was "compatible" with the law.

Asked whether Mr Johnson still had confidence in the Attorney General, the Prime Minister's official spokesperson said: "Yes, absolutely."

And they added: "The AG issued a statement yesterday where he set out that the Government acted in good faith and expected the court would have agreed that it acted lawfully and constitutionally."

Number 10 also confirmed that neither Mr Cox or any other member of the Government - at either ministerial or official level - had offered to quit following the landmark Supreme Court defeat.

"He, like the rest of the Cabinet, are focused on delivering Brexit on 31 October and getting on with delivering public priorities such as investing in the NHS and tackling serious and violent crime," the PM's spokesperson said.

'THE MATTER IS SETTLED'

Mr Cox meanwhile defended his "sound advice" on the prorogation as he faced a barrage of questions in the House of Commons.

Speaking as MPs returned to the chamber for the first time after the ruling, he said: “The Government accepts the judgment and accepts it has lost the case, and at all times the Government acted in good faith, and in the belief that its approach was both lawful and constitution.

“These are complex matters on which senior and distinguished lawyers will disagree, and the divisional court led by the Lord Chief Justice, as well as Lord Doherty in the outer house of Scotland, agreed with the Government’s position.

“But we were disappointed that in the end the Supreme Court took a different view, and of course we respect the judgment of the court."

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry - who helped mount the legal challenge to the shutdown - said the Attorney General was being set up “as a fall guy” for Mr Johnson’s “botched” plans.

She urged Mr Cox to “release the advice in its entirety” in a bid to “avoid being a scapegoat for a plan dreamed up by the Prime Minister and his advisors.”

Mr Cox said he would “consider whether the public interest might require a greater disclosure of the advice given to the Government on this subject”.