UK: Theresa May’s government has been found in contempt of Parliament
Theresa May’s government has been found in contempt of parliament after it refused to comply with a motion passed by MPs demanding that it release the full official legal advice on the prime minister’s Brexit deal.
MPs voted by 311 to 293 to find ministers in contempt. It is the first time any UK government has been found in contempt by its MPs in parliamentary history.
Following the vote the government announced that they would now comply with the demand to publish the advice, but only after a separate parliamentary committee have examined it.
“We have tested the opinion of the House twice on this very serious subject,” the Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom said following the vote.
“We have listened carefully and in light of the expressed will of the House, we will publish the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to Cabinet. But recognising the very serious constitutional issues this raises, I’ve referred the matter to the privileges committee to consider the implications of the humble address.”
The motion, passed on Tuesday evening, did not name any individual minister.
However, if May’s government had continued to refuse to comply with the demands to release the legal advice in full then the Attorney General or other ministers could have faced suspension from Parliament.
It is a long-standing constitutional convention in the UK that Parliament is sovereign and the executive must be subject to its will. However, the government had argued that a separate convention against revealing confidential legal advice supplied to ministers had precedence.
MPs today rejected that position, as well as a separate motion to have the matter decided by a committee of MPs at a later date. The latter amendment was narrowly rejected by 311 votes to 307.
The decision, which was backed by a number of Conservative MPs as well as the Democratic Unionist Party which has propped up her government, spells trouble for May’s government as it approaches the crucial vote on the prime minister’s Brexit deal due to take place next Tuesday.