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DUP piles the pressure on May to reveal legal advice on Brexit deal

Party backs bid to force May to disclose full details on implications of backstop

By David Young

DUP MPs were last night preparing for a showdown with Prime Minister Theresa May over her Brexit deal.

Sources at Westminster say that the 10 party representatives could join forces today with Labour and other opposition parties to call for the Government to publish the full legal advice it received on the implications of the Brexit deal.

The DUP declined to comment, but it is understood a letter to Speaker John Bercow has been drafted for signature by Nigel Dodds, Labour's Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, the Lib Dems and the SNP, claiming ministers' refusal to give MPs the legal advice is in contempt of Parliament.

The move, which could spark an historic constitutional row, is to be submitted today unless ministers have a change of heart.

And it would put further strain on the DUP's relationship with Mrs May as she struggles to win backing for her deal in the crucial Commons vote on December 11.

Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News: "If they don't produce it [the legal advice] tomorrow, then we will start contempt proceedings, this will be a collision course between the government and Parliament."

MPs have angrily accused ministers of ignoring the will of the House after they said only they would release a "full reasoned political statement" on the legal position.

It follows a binding Commons vote last month requiring the Government to lay before Parliament "any legal advice in full" - including that given by the Attorney General - relating to the Withdrawal Agreement.

It was reported yesterday that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox - who is due to make a statement to the Commons today - had warned the UK could be tied to the EU customs union "indefinitely" through the "backstop" provision.

The Sunday Times claimed that in a letter sent last month to Cabinet ministers, he advised the only way out of the backstop - designed to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic - once it was invoked, was to sign a new trade deal, a process which could take years.

"The protocol would endure indefinitely," he is reported to have written.

The letter was said to be so sensitive that ministers were given numbered copies to read which they were not allowed to take from the room afterwards.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab - who quit last month over the withdrawal agreement - said the legal position was clear.

"The backstop will last indefinitely until it is superseded by the treaty setting out our future relationship, unless the EU allows us to exit," he said.

"The EU has a clear veto, even if the future negotiations stretch on for many years, or even if they break down and there is no realistic likelihood of us reaching agreement.

"That's my view as a former international lawyer, but it is consistent if not identical with all of the formal advice I received."

Ministers have argued the legal advice is privileged, in the same way as any advice given by a lawyer to their client, and that Government cannot function if it is required to release such confidential material.

Last night it was reported that Mrs May's chief Brexit adviser secretly warned her the Northern Ireland "backstop" was a "bad outcome" for Britain.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Oliver Robbins said the backstop, intended to prevent the return of a hard border, would mean the imposition of regulatory checks between the North and the rest of the UK, according to The Daily Telegraph.

He is said to have written: "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."

Meanwhile, Michael Gove has insisted the Government can win the Commons vote on Mrs May's Brexit deal, despite scores of Tory MPs threatening to vote against it.

The Environment Secretary acknowledged it would be "challenging" to get it through the House, but while he accepted the deal was not "perfect", he said the alternative was either "no deal or no Brexit".

Mr Gove, who was one of the leaders of the Leave campaign, said he had reflected "long and hard" before deciding to back the plan.

But while there were aspects of the deal he found "uncomfortable", he believed it was now the right way forward.

"I reflected long and hard about this deal but I concluded, like lots of people, that while it is imperfect it is the right thing to do," he told The Andrew Marr Show.

"One of the things that I hope people will have the chance to do over the next nine days is to recognise that we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good."

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