John Bercow warns ministers could be in contempt of parliament over Brexit legal advice row

Posted On: 
28th November 2018

Ministers could be held in contempt of Parliament if they refuse to publish their full legal advice on Brexit, John Bercow has warned.

Commons Speaker John Bercow urged Keir Starmer to get the ball rolling for a contempt motion
PA Images

The Speaker urged Labour frontbencher Keir Starmer to write a formal complaint if he feels the Government is failing to comply with an order from MPs.

Theresa May confirmed today that a summary of the legal advice on her Brexit deal by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox would be made public - but not the full details.

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Labour accused ministers of “violating the sovereignty of Parliament” after the Commons passed a unanimous vote two weeks ago demanding to see it in full before they make a call on the Brexit agreement.

Sir Keir today asked the Speaker what he could do to force the Government to play ball - and said he was “deeply concerned” at the refusal to comply.

Mr Bercow said the Shadow Brexit Secretary should write to him “to suggest the House has been or is about to be subject to a contempt”.

He added: “I will decide - and I will not linger - whether there is an arguable case that a contempt has been committed and therefore whether an appropriate motion should be put urgently to the House.”

Mrs May told the Commons this afternoon: “Of course there’s a legitimate desire in Parliament to understand the legal implications of the deal.

“We have said and we have been clear that we will make available to members a full reasoned position statement laying out the Government’s legal position on the withdrawal agreement...

“But as regards publication of the full legal advice, the advice any client receives from their lawyers is privileged. That’s the same for government as it is for any member of the public.”

But a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said: “Parliament took a clear decision and the Speaker made clear what that meant and the Government is violating the sovereignty of Parliament in its response.

"We will be seeking mechanisms to try and enforce the will of Parliament."

The Government has suggested the legal summary will be published on Monday and has said Sir Geoffrey will take questions in the Commons once it is available.