Contempt of Parliament

The beginning of the end of Theresa May’s tenure as Prime Minister has begun, and with it the fall of the Tories and the end of Brexit.

Today Parliament found 311 to 293 that her government was in Contempt of Parliament and ordered Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, to produce the full contents of his legal findings instead of the redacted digest already released.

This is kind of a big deal for the British who still feel betrayed by Tony Blair’s suppression of reports that the evidence of weapons of Mass Destruction was inconclusive at best and the Iraq War was illegal (both proven facts by the way).

Six opposition Parties voted unanimously to censure the Government, including, notably, the Democratic Unionist Party, the keystone of May’s coalition. They also indicated they were going to withdraw from that arrangement. The Scottish National Party is once again threatening to leave the United Kingdom which, if it happens, will leave Northern Ireland, England, Wales, The Channel Islands, and Gibraltar as the remnants of the Empire on which the sun never set (ok, Falklands and some other scraps here and there).

And so it unfolds exactly as I predicted. By the end of the Month May will either lose a vote of confidence or otherwise be forced to resign and General Elections will be called. The Brexit deal will be defeated by at least as great a margin (maybe twice, for May is stubborn) and Jeremy Corbyn will be left to pick up the pieces.

Brexit will not survive a second referendum. In possibly related news Nigel Farange has left the United Kingdom Independence Party which has declined into irrelevancy anyway.

Full Brexit legal advice to be published after government loses vot
by Jessica Elgot, Rajeev Syal and Heather Stewart, The Guardian
Tue 4 Dec 2018

Theresa May’s parliamentary authority has been thrown into further doubt after MPs passed a historic motion to hold the government in contempt over its failure to release the cabinet legal advice on the Brexit deal.

The Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, said the government would comply and publish the advice in full on Wednesday. The vote is an unprecedented move in recent political history and comes at the start of five days of debate leading up to the final vote on May’s Brexit deal next week.

The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, called the defeat “a badge of shame” and said the government “has lost its majority and the respect of the house”.

The DUP, which the government relies on for a majority, had voted with Labour to hold the government in contempt, raising questions over whether May could still be said to command a majority.

In the knife-edge vote, MPs decided by 311 votes to 293 to find the government in contempt of parliament, for failure to comply with a Commons motion in November that ordered it to release the advice in full.

As Labour MPs heard they had defeated the government, a loud cheer went up, with one opposition backbencher shouting: “Beginning of the end!”

The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, had argued that the public interest did not permit the publication of the advice and instead published a summary of the advice and took questions in the House of Commons on Monday.

During the debate, Starmer said the government was “wilfully refusing” to comply with a binding order to release the legal advice on its Brexit deal, putting it in contempt of parliament.

The government had tried to dodge the contempt motion by putting down an amendment seeking to refer the matter to the Commons privileges committee, an attempt to kick it into the long grass. That was defeated by just four votes.

Several rebellious Conservative MPs including the Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg and the former attorney general Dominic Grieve expressed some discomfort with the government’s position, but said they would vote for Leadsom’s amendment. However, it was not enough to save the government from defeat by opposition parties and the DUP.

During the debate, Starmer said Cox had “as good as admitted” he was ignoring a parliamentary vote to release the document, because he believed it was not in the national interest.

“I’m sorry, that’s a plea of mitigation and not a defence,” Starmer said. “For the attorney general to say in his view that it is not in the national interest is not good enough,” he said.

He quoted Rees-Mogg, who previously said it was “no longer a matter for this government to judge, it has been decided by this house, which is a higher authority”.

Starmer said the government had decided not to oppose the original motion on releasing the advice in order to avoid the “short-term humiliation” of a defeat.

“The decision taken not to oppose was a political decision because it feared it would lose the vote,” he said. “The price of that was higher than voting against the order … for months the government has ignored opposition day debates and now it has got them into very deep water indeed.”

Earlier, Cox insisted he could not comply with MPs’ demand to release the full Brexit legal advice.

Starmer said it was of huge constitutional and political significance. “Never before has the House of Commons found ministers in contempt of parliament,” he said.

“It is highly regrettable that the government has let it come to this, but ministers left the opposition with no option but to bring forward these proceedings.”

Earlier, Theresa May had told cabinet it was a longstanding convention that “neither the fact nor the content of law officers’ advice is shared outside government without their consent”.

Such is the government’s frustration at Tuesday’s wrangle, that Leadsom has written to the chair of the privileges committee, Kate Green, calling for an inquiry.

Leadsom’s letter said that the government feared Labour’s recent approach – which was used to force the government to publish economic assessments of Brexit, as well as in the current row – would “impact the ability of current and future governments to request and receive the best advice”.