UK faces constitutional crisis over Brexit legal advice, Labour warns: Brexit News for Monday 3 December

UK faces constitutional crisis over Brexit legal advice, Labour warns: Brexit News for Monday 3 December
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UK faces constitutional crisis over Brexit legal advice, Labour warns…

The PM says the advice is confidential. but some MPs think ministers do not want to admit it says the UK could be indefinitely tied to EU customs rules. Ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson has joined calls for its publication, which critics say could sink the PM’s deal. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will make a statement about it on Monday. He is set to publish a reduced version of the legal advice – despite calls from MPs from all parties to publish a full version. Labour is planning to join forces with other parties, including the DUP, who keep Mrs May in power, to initiate contempt of Parliament proceedings unless the government backs down. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News: “If they don’t produce [the advice] tomorrow (Monday) then we will start contempt proceedings. This will be a collision course between the government and Parliament.” – BBC News

  • Theresa May warned of ‘historic’ constitutional battle over Brexit legal advice – ITV News

…while Tony Blair’s ex-Attorney General says keeping Brexit legal advice secret because of the Iraq precedent is wrong

The Government’s claim that Brexit legal advice should be kept secret because of the precedent set by the Iraq War is wrong, Tony Blair’s former Attorney General has said. During a debate last week Lord Keen of Elie, a minister, highlighted Lord Goldsmith’s justification for refusing to publish the advice in 2003. Quoting Lord Goldsmith’s words at the time, Lord Keen said advice from the law officer “is covered by legal professional privilege and is subject to a long-standing convention that prevents disclosure of the advice or even the fact that the law officer has been consulted.” Lord Keen added: “That explains why it’s not appropriate for me to go further, but to anticipate a statement that has not yet been made I would suggest is wholly inappropriate.” However Lord Goldsmith himself directly contradicted Lord Keen during the debate. He pointed out that unlike during the Iraq War, Parliament has voted for the release of the Brexit legal advice. He added that his advice had been ultimately published during the Iraq War inquiry. He said: “I do not agree with or accept the characterisations that have been made in relation to what happened in 2003, but that is for another day. “Of course, all the advice given on Iraq was disclosed in the Chilcot inquiry and looked at in great detail. It is important to recognise that. – Telegraph (£)

Theresa May’s chief Brexit adviser warned her the customs backstop is a ‘bad outcome’ for Britain

Theresa May’s chief Brexit adviser secretly warned her that the customs backstop is a “bad outcome” for the UK which will see regulatory checks in the Irish Sea and put security co-operation at risk, The Telegraph can reveal. Oliver Robbins warned in a letter to the Prime Minister that there is no legal “guarantee” that Britain will be able to break off from the backstop, potentially leaving the UK trapped in a Customs Union with the EU. He argued that extending the transition period after Brexit would provide a more “cast iron escape route” than entering into the backstop, which under Mrs May’s deal will kick in if a solution to the Irish border issue cannot be found by December 2020. He said: “We should not forget that the backstop world, even with a UK-EU customs union, is a bad outcome with regulatory controls needed somewhere between GB and NI, serious and visible frictions and process between GB and the EU, and no security co-operation provided for.” – Telegraph (£)

May will today claim again that Brexit will open the door to new trade deals around the world…

Following her attendance at the G20 summit in Argentina, the Prime Minister will say she held talks with a series of leaders keen to strike agreements with the UK once it is outside the EU. “Once we leave the EU, we can and we will strike ambitious trade deals,” she is expected to say in a Commons statement on Monday. “For the first time in more than 40 years we will have an independent trade policy, and we will continue to be a passionate advocate for the benefits open economies and free markets can bring. “We will forge new and ambitious economic partnerships, and open up new markets for our goods and services in the fastest growing economies around the world.” She will say that among the leaders to express an interest in reaching early agreements were those of Japan, Canada and Chile as well as hosts Argentina. – The Argus

…but House of Commons legal experts conclude the backstop would be a ‘barrier’ to free trade deals

Ministers now face further questions as it emerges that a confidential analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons’ own expert legal team comes to the same conclusion as President Trump – that Theresa May’s Brexit deal would prevent the UK from entering trade deals with countries such as the US. The bombshell is contained in a 27-page legal note prepared by the House of Commons EU Legislation Team… The note – marked ‘not for general distribution’ and obtained by BrexitCentral – is dated 26th November and states that the UK-EU customs union which would come into effect if the backstop is triggered “would be a practical barrier to the UK entering separate trade agreements on goods with third countries”. – BrexitCentral

Michael Gove says the Government can win next week’s Brexit vote…

By some estimates, over a hundred Conservative MPs are preparing to vote against May’s withdrawal agreement in parliament next week, paving the way for a crisis over how the UK proceeds with Brexit. “I believe we can win the argument, and win the vote,” Gove said. Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Gove said: “We should not make the perfect the enemy of the good,” warning that rejecting May’s agreement risked bringing about a no-deal Brexit, or causing the UK to remain in the EU. “If we were to leave without a deal, I think we would undoubtedly go through a period of turbulence,” he said. “While it’s not as a bad as some have argued, it is economically, clearly, going to cause hurt.” – City A.M.

  • Government can win Brexit vote in parliament – Reuters

…as he warns of a new referendum if MPs don’t back the PM’s deal

The leading cabinet Brexiteer said Mrs May’s deal was not perfect – but if MPs did not vote it through on 11 December there was a risk of “no Brexit at all”. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show there may now be a Commons majority for another referendum. Labour has said it will attempt to topple Mrs May and force a general election if MPs reject her deal. If that fails, they will then seek support in the Commons for another referendum. Michael Gove insisted Mrs May could still win the vote on 11 December despite dozens of her own MPs being against her EU deal. The environment secretary told the BBC that winning the Commons vote would be “challenging”. But although Mrs May’s deal was not perfect, “we have got to recognise that if we don’t vote for this, the alternatives are no deal or no Brexit”. “There is a real risk if we don’t vote for this deal there may be a majority in the House of Commons for a second referendum,” said Mr Gove, a leading figure in the 2016 Leave campaign. – BBC News

  • Remainers pushing for second referendum think Brexiteers are ‘thick’ and ‘prejudiced’, says Michael Gove – Telegraph (£)

Labour will move a vote of no confidence in Theresa May if she loses Brexit vote…

Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary, said his party will “inevitably” table a no confidence motion if Mrs May’s Brexit deal does not pass through Parliament. He criticised the Prime Minister for “running down the clock” and coming up with a “bad deal”. “People praise her resilience – at the moment I don’t think this is resilience, it’s just ploughing on regardless,” he said. Sir Keir said the Prime Minister has “failed to have got the option of a deal that Parliament can support” and is therefore “pushing” the options of a second vote or a no deal. Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Sir Keir said: “I think the prime minister is going to struggle between now and that vote. If Mrs May loses the key vote, she will have 21 days to consult her Cabinet and make a statement to Parliament setting out what she plans to do next. “We need to see what that is,” he said, adding: “But it seems to me that if the prime minister has lost a vote of that sort of significance, then there has to be a question of confidence in her government. I think it’s inevitable that we will seek to move that.” – Telegraph (£)

  • Labour poised to move May confidence motion if she loses Brexit vote – Guardian

…while the DUP threaten to abandon support for Theresa May in such a vote

Theresa May was under fresh pressure last night as the DUP threatened to abandon her in a confidence vote if she failed to get her Brexit deal through parliament. Party sources said that they were considering the move, which would leave the prime minister without a Commons majority, over fears that her plan would create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The warning came as Labour said that it would table a no-confidence motion in the government if MPs voted down her Brexit deal next week. With the Conservatives relying on the DUP’s ten votes for a majority in the Commons, any withdrawal of support leaves the party in danger of losing a confidence vote. Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, if the government loses a vote on a confidence motion, it has 14 days to pass a second confidence motion or parliament will be dissolved and a general election called. – The Times (£)

  • Theresa May’s DUP allies threaten to abandon her in no-confidence vote and join calls to force release of Brexit deal legal advice – The Sun

Nicola Sturgeon urges MPs to seek Article 50 extension and rule out a ‘no deal’ Brexit

The First Minister will call on opposition parties to use the parliamentary vote next Tuesday to block a no deal Brexit, and extend Article 50 to give Parliament time to agree “a better way forward”. Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said he expected an amendment to suspend the withdrawal process to be brought forward in the Commons in the coming days. Speaking ahead of the visit, Ms Sturgeon said: “Having now finally published its own official analysis of the economic consequences of Brexit, the UK Government can no longer hide behind their own spin. It is clear that any kind of Brexit will make Scotland and the UK poorer. “With so much at stake for people’s jobs and living standards, it is vital that MPs come together to reject the PM’s deal, to rule out a no deal Brexit and to secure an extension to Article 50.” – Telegraph (£)

  • Blackford says SNP will support bid to put Brexit on hold – BBC News
  • Brexit process should be ‘suspended’, SNP says – Sky News

Theresa May has handed over ‘Xmas list’ of goodies to EU in botched Brexit deal, Boris Johnson blasts

Boris predicted that if the UK prepares for No Deal, Brussels will take us more seriously and offer improved terms. And he mocked the idea that the EU’s rules are as inflexible as ancient tribes – pointing out that Eurocrats are used to “horse trading and back room compromises”. But in a Twitter storm this evening, the former Foreign Secretary said both sides were bluffing and predicted talks will restart if MPs vote down the PM’s deal in nine days’ time. Boris wrote: “Those who say that it’s impossible to get a better deal from the EU than Theresa May’s deal – that the EU has rules as immutable as those of the Medes and the Persians – have obviously never seen the horse trading and back room compromises that characterise every EU summit. “What is different about this negotiation is one simple fact: the EU believed that despite her ‘No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal’ rhetoric, Theresa May was desperate for a deal at any price. “Once those with whom you are negotiating believe that, then it simply becomes a matter of how long they want to make their Christmas list. “Once the EU realises that they have overplayed their hand & Parliament won’t wear this shameful surrender, they will be faced with a choice: do a proper & equitable deal or split without a deal – a prospect that they don’t relish, not least as they lose all leverage over us.” The Sun

Access to fishing and trade matters ‘separate issues’, insists Lidington

Mr Lidington was asked in a BBC Scotland interview whether he could give fishermen a guarantee that, when it comes to negotiating a future agreement, there would be no link between fishing and access to UK waters and a broader trade deal. He told the Sunday Politics Scotland programme: “Yes, we’ve made that absolutely clear from day one. The Prime Minister has repeated that in the House of Commons. “Not only has that been the Prime Minister’s position, if you look at the way the EU has approached its trading relations with every other third country outside the European Union, access to waters and trade have been treated as completely separate matters, not interlinked matters.” – The Argus

Downing Street accuses Jeremy Corbyn of ‘running scared’ of a TV debate over Brexit with Theresa May

Downing Street confirmed that there is still no agreement on the debate which is due to be screened on December 9, two days ahead of the Commons vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. The latest spat erupted after Mr Corbyn said on Saturday that he was prepared to accept Downing Street’s preferred option of the BBC, provided it was a straight head-to-head discussion between the two leaders. The Labour leader had previously indicated his support for a rival ITV proposal based on a simple one-on-one format, in contrast to the BBC offer which also involves the leaders taking questions from a wider panel. However a No 10 spokesman made clear they are determined to stick to the original BBC plan. “A week ago, the PM challenged Jeremy Corbyn to a head-to-head debate. He accepted,” the spokesman said. “But if Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t agree to what’s now on the table – a debate on prime time with the Prime Minister – the public will rightly conclude he’s running scared. So let’s get on with it.” – Evening Standard

John Kerry issues Brexit warning over reigniting Troubles in Northern Ireland

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned it is “imperative” to resolve the issues thrown up by Brexit surrounding the Irish border in a way that does not reignite the Troubles. Mr Kerry made his comments during an event in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. He told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme that a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland could “re-heat passions”. “Under the Stormont Agreement, the last 20 years have been characterised by a border which people have been able to cross easily,” he said. “If you have a certain kind of Brexit with a hard border you could see great difficulties emerge as a consequence of that. “I have concerns that depending on what kind of Brexit takes place it could have a negative impact on the progress made in the last 20 years. “It could re-heat passions one way or the other or both depending on what it is. We have to see how this is going to be resolved. “It’s imperative that it’s resolved in a way that it does not reignite the Troubles.” – Belfast Telegraph

Boris Johnson: We need to hold our nerve over Brexit – we can do so much better than this deal

Yes, of course the public is entitled to see the legal advice from the Attorney General to the Prime Minister. It is a scandal that this is currently being withheld. It is outrageous that the public should be prevented from knowing the full legal implications of this appalling deal – when it is their rights, their freedoms, their hard-won suffrage, that are about to be bartered away.  It is no use the Government claiming that this advice is protected by “client privilege”. But in case the Government continues to brazen it out, let me tell you roughly what that advice says – namely, what every lawyer can see: that this 175-page backstop is a great steel trap that is about to clamp its jaws around our hind limbs and prevent our escape. In the past few days the veterans of Project Fear have been out in force – and when you hear them say that this country will run out of drinking water and Mars Bars, remember that they said we would lose 500,000 jobs just for voting Leave. We have in fact gained 800,000 jobs. I don’t believe it will be necessary, but no deal should hold no terrors for us. I confidently predict that we will still have drinking water and Mars Bars – and we can have our freedom, too. – Boris Johnson MP for the Telegraph (£)

Liam Fox: Accept this imperfect deal or Brexit may never happen

I don’t want to be left wondering how we managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of the Brexit victory. In just under four months’ time, the UK will leave the European Union. For those of us who believe Britain’s best future lies outside a supranational organisation dead set on ever closer union, this is a goal we have spent years working towards. I campaigned for a referendum. I voted to hold the referendum. I campaigned to leave. I voted to leave. We won. We are now within touching distance of breaking free from the European Union. Do I think everything in the Prime Minister’s deal is perfect? No. Do I expect it to be perfect? No. Does it do what we need it to? Yes. As leave supporters, the choice we face isn’t between the deal the Prime Minister has reached or a deal we might like to reach. The choice is between this deal and the very real risk of no Brexit. If Parliamentary tactics are used to steal Brexit from the British people, faith will be lost in the very fabric of our democratic process with potentially unknowable consequences. – Dr Liam Fox MP for the Telegraph (£)

Nicky Morgan: The only credible alternative plan is Norway Plus. And that may well be what Parliament ends up supporting.

The only credible alternative plan is a Norway Plus option. This may well be where Parliament ends up – but it may take the ruling out of all other options before we get there. And if Parliament ends up reaching some form of consensus view, then the Government will have to adopt it, too. During the next eight days, MPs must prove ourselves worthy of the positions we hold. Our actions will be scrutinised as never before. The stakes are high, and the alternatives need to be weighed very carefully. We cannot know for certain what the consequences of voting the Withdrawal Agreement down would be, but doing so will not provide certainty or stability. This is truly a vote in which, for decades to come, we will be asked to justify how we voted and why we voted the way we did. – Nicky Morgan MP for ConservativeHome

Brian Monteith: Only a clean Brexit break can save us now

The Withdrawal Agreement is May’s policy through and through; it is no one else’s. Even the former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab only learned of the details the day before the Cabinet was informed. When it is defeated it will be a personal defeat for the Prime Minister. If she does not resign it can only be because she believes she can go back to Brussels and extract a better deal than she was prepared to put to Parliament. The way to resolve this revolving door of painful division is to vote the deal down and accept the remaining time up to the 29th March should be used to negotiate a managed and orderly clean break. All the potential problems identified by the Department for Exiting the EU can be the subject of discussions so they are mitigated. Some, such as difficulties over passenger flights and visas have already received verbal commitments from the EU that would resolve them, while others, such as border procedures, can be minimised through the application of existing technologies. In part, those problems that do exist are often because UK and EU agencies have held off from instigating staff training for new procedures until they knew if there would be a deal or not. When it comes to negotiating a smooth and clean break from the EU, that £39 billion – for which there is no obligation to pay – can take on a new importance all of its own. – Brian Monteith for The Scotsman

Paul Goodman: Almost seven in ten Party members say that Conservative MPs should vote against May’s deal

In short, our headline finding is that over seven out ten Party members believe that Conservative MPs should oppose the deal. There can be little doubt that most Leavers among them are against it and most Remainers among them for it. That said, Downing Street has a platform to build on. The other survey response in this section finds that almost a third of respondents believe that Tory MPs should back her in the lobbies. The total doing so is 30 per cent. So five per cent of our respondents don’t back the deal…but believe none the less that Conservative MPs should vote for it. 68 per cent think that they should vote against it. So it is way to go for Theresa May.  With less than a fortnight left until the “meaningful vote”, she has little time to change hearts and minds. All in all, the survey finds no evidence for rising support for the deal from Party members. And suggests that less than a third of them back her push to get Conservative MPs onside. – Paul Goodman for ConservativeHome

Dia Chakravarty: Don’t accept any old deal just to end this limbo

The Norway option may seem marginally preferable to Mrs May’s deal if it means being outside the customs union (although in the so-called Norway Plus version, Britain would stay in, too). Interestingly, according to the Political Declaration the EU no longer dismisses exploring technical solutions to the Irish border as “magical thinking”. But Brexiteers should think carefully before signing up to the single market. If our leaders are of the opinion that we simply cannot leave the EU because Michel Barnier’s team has outwitted us in every step of the negotiation process, starting from the sequencing agreement, then they need to be honest about it, and let history judge them. What they mustn’t do is insult our intelligence, and pretend this is what we voted for. – Dia Chakravarty for the Telegraph (£)

The Times: View on the government’s Brexit legal advice

The convention that government legal advice should remain confidential is an important one that should not be set aside lightly. Under the principle of attorney/client privilege, all advice give by a lawyer to their client should remain confidential, regardless of whether the client is an individual, a corporation or the government. Moreover, the British constitution operates on the basis of cabinet responsibility. If ministers are to be held accountable for collective decisions, it is vital that all ministers, including the attorney-general, can raise concerns privately. If government legal advice were to be routinely made public, the advice might be less frank and lawyers might be less willing to commit their concerns to paper, to the detriment of quality of cabinet decision-making. Nonetheless, exceptions have been made in the past in exceptional circumstances — and few would deny that the decision facing parliament over Brexit is exceptional. – The Times editorial

Brexit in Brief

  • Ten myths from the ‘no-deal’ Project Fear – Professor David Paton for The Spectator
  • ‘Let’s not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’ and back the deal’ – James Cleverly MP for the Express
  • Labour frontbench split over no-deal option in second EU referendum – PoliticsHome
  • Michael Gove signals split with Philip Hammond over Treasury Brexit warnings – PoliticsHome