London [UK]: The United Kingdom government’s move to not publish the full legal advice based on which it formulated the Brexit plan, was on Tuesday (local time) found to be in contempt of the Parliament. This marks the first-ever instance where the British government has been found to be in contempt of the Parliament, CNN reported.
The Prime Minister Theresa May-led Conservative Party government lost the vote earlier today by a margin of 18 votes (311 for, 293 against) in the House of Commons, a heavy blow to the government ahead of the five-day debate on the proposed Brexit agreement. The House of Commons took to Twitter to confirm the outcome of the vote and that ministers were found to be in contempt.
“House of Commons votes 311 to 293 to approve the privilege motion, finding Ministers in contempt and ordering the immediate publication of the full legal advice on the #Brexit deal,” the tweet read. Following the defeat, the government confirmed that it would release the legal advice, which was prepared by Attorney general Geoffrey Cox, on Wednesday. Prior to the voting, May spoke to the Cabinet about the “candid” legal advice given to ministers, stressing the importance of keeping it confidential.
According to CNN, the Labour Party’s Brexit spokesperson Keir Starmer said that the defeat in the House was a “badge of shame” for the government. He further told the British Press Association that the decision had “huge constitutional and political significance”. The contempt vote comes as senior legislators from six parties urged, via a joint letter, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, to launch proceedings under contempt of Parliament against the government.
“The Government has failed to publish the Attorney General’s full and final legal advice on the Brexit deal, as was ordered by Parliament. We have been left with no option but to write to the Speaker of the House of Commons to ask him to launch proceedings of contempt,” Starmer tweeted earlier. Starmer had accused the government of “willfully refusing to comply” with the order of the Parliament during the debate on Tuesday. “This is contempt,” he added.
The day started on a bad note for the British government as a top European Union (EU) law officer that the UK could unilaterally cancel the Brexit process. The Advocate General told the European Court of Justice that the approval of the remaining 27 EU member nations is not necessary for the cancellation of the two-year countdown for Brexit. This was followed by the House of Commons approving an amendment which gives the Parliament more influence over the process if the government’s deal was to be rejected by lawmakers next week.
In 2016, over 50 per cent of the UK electorate voted to leave the EU, following which the British government had triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, beginning the country’s process of its exit from the European bloc. According to the draft deal, the UK is scheduled to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019, after which it will move into a 21-month long transitionary period (post-Brexit transition).