Theresa May’s Brexit deal will face fresh scrutiny when the Cabinet’s full legal advice is published, following one of the most punishing days in the Commons for a sitting Government in recent memory.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said the advice on the Withdrawal Agreement from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox would be published on Wednesday morning, after MPs on Tuesday found the Government to be in contempt of Parliament for the first time in modern history.
Wednesday is the second of five days of debates on the deal before the December 11 vote, and follows a first day which saw a series of dramatic defeats for the Prime Minister’s struggling administration.
As well as losing the contempt vote, the Government was also forced to allow MPs to have a say in what happens next if the Brexit deal is voted down on Tuesday.
Mrs Leadsom told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government would release the legal advice, but “not without some regret”.
She also fired a warning shot at rebels within the Tory Party, saying: “Going forward, not only will Government ministers be very careful about what they ask law officers to give advice on, but law officers themselves will be very reluctant to give any advice to Government that they might then see published on the front pages of the newspapers, so it’s the principle of the thing.
“And, frankly, I think any parliamentarian who wants at some point in the future to be in Government is going to live to regret their vote last night.”
Mrs Leadsom, who had been reported to have been leading intra-Cabinet attempts to get Mrs May to change the deal agreed with Brussels after months of hard-fought negotiations.
She told Today that she was staying in Government to make “absolutely sure” Britain does not end up in the backstop, saying: I am a very strong arch Brexiteer, I genuinely believe that we have a bright future ahead of us when we leave the EU.
“And so all the way through I’ve had conflicting thoughts and I’ve had to consider whether I can live with things, but at the end of the day this deal is the best combination that we’re going to get and so I just urge colleagues to look at it carefully to give it a real chance.”
On Tuesday night, Mrs May had made a last-ditch attempt to rally MPs behind her Brexit deal after suffering the historic humiliation of seeing her Government found in contempt of Parliament.
In dramatic scenes at Westminster, the Government bowed to pressure to publish the “final and full” legal advice to Cabinet on the deal after MPs voted by 311 to 293 that its failure to do so amounted to contempt.
The Prime Minister’s Democratic Unionist Party allies – along with Tory MPs Philip Hollobone and Peter Bone – joined opposition parties in the unprecedented move.
MPs also backed a move that could put Parliament in the driving seat if the Brexit deal is rejected on December 11 by giving the Commons the power to amend a motion that Mrs May would be required to make within the following 21 days to set out the Government’s next steps.
This could open the door for the Commons to throw its weight behind a Norway-style soft Brexit or even a second EU referendum, though prominent Leave-backing MPs questioned whether any such vote would be binding on ministers.
Some 26 Tory MPs – including former ministers Sir Michael Fallon, Damian Green and Sir Oliver Letwin – rebelled on the amendment tabled by ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve.
The drama in the Chamber came after:
– Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned that a no-deal Brexit could result in shopping bills soaring by 10%;
– The European Court of Justice’s Advocate General, Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona, said Article 50, which started the Brexit process, could be revoked unilaterally by the UK;
– A senior Toyota executive warned that a no-deal Brexit could result in “stop-start production” for weeks or months at the car giant’s UK plant;
– The BBC dropped proposals for a TV debate featuring Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn followed by a discussion between eight panellists including politicians from different sides of the Brexit argument.
Tory former chief whip Mark Harper became the latest to break ranks to say he would vote against the Prime Minister’s proposal, telling the Telegraph it would leave the UK worse off and should be renegotiated.
Shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti said extending Article 50 “can’t be ruled out”.
Asked on Today about Labour’s stance on the issue given the Advocate General’s opinion, she said: “It can’t be ruled out because the clock is ticking.
“I think there would be time if Mrs May heard what happened in the House of Commons last night and decided to think again and go back to her European colleagues right now and not wait until next week.”