Belfast Telegraph

DUP puts the heat on May to share legal advice on Irish border plans after Brexit

Sir Jeffrey says public interest demands PM outline details

By David Hughes

The DUP yesterday demanded that the Prime Minister publish legal advice on Brexit and the Irish border.

Theresa May is under intense pressure to publish the advice behind her Brexit plan as Labour, Tory Eurosceptics and the DUP - whose 10 MPs prop up the Prime Minister's administration in the Commons - lined up against her yesterday.

Legal advice is usually confidential, but DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that if the House of Commons was going to have a meaningful vote on the deal then people should "know what that advice is".

Sir Jeffrey denied he did not trust the Government, but said: "I think it's in the public interest we understand fully what's happening here.

"It's because it affects the whole UK therefore it shouldn't just be the DUP that sees this advice, or the Government.

"If the House of Commons is going to have a meaningful vote on a deal, upon which this legal advice is very, very important, then I think people are entitled to know what that advice is."

Brexiteers, including Environment Secretary Michael Gove, want to see the full legal advice setting out how any customs arrangement to avoid a hard border could be ended to avoid it becoming a permanent settlement.

For Labour, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said it was "essential" that MPs should be able to see the advice drawn up by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said refusal to publish the advice "raises serious questions about what Tory ministers are trying to hide".

In a development that will cause concern in Downing Street, a Tory European Research Group (ERG) source indicated its MPs "would be up for sharing the Attorney General's wisdom" if Labour forced a Commons vote on the issue.

Pressure over the legal advice mounted as Cabinet ministers were invited to review the text of the withdrawal agreement which has so far been secured in negotiations with Brussels.

The Prime Minister told MPs last month that 95% of the deal had been agreed, although the key sticking point of the backstop to prevent a hard Irish border remained unresolved.

A Downing Street source said: "That is just where we are so far. It does not imply that a deal has been done."

The development will do little to dampen speculation among Tory Eurosceptics that a deal is close to being signed off.

Last night, Jacob Rees-Mogg raised concerns over Mrs May's Cabinet being "bounced" into Brexit decisions, as he indicated "many dozens" of Tory MPs could oppose the Government's deal.

The senior Tory MP, who chairs the Eurosceptic ERG, said he would vote against an extension of the customs union with the EU, adding he believed it would not be delivering on the party's 2017 election pledge.

Mr Rees-Mogg also said legal advice behind the Government's Brexit plan should "certainly be made available to Cabinet ministers" to ensure they know what they are signing up to, adding he is more concerned over whether the deal is good or bad rather than all MPs seeing such advice.

He went on to say: "So this is a secondary issue but cabinet government is very important and there is a concern that the Cabinet is not being fully involved in this, it's getting information at a late stage, there is an appearance of it being bounced, you hear of ministers getting 45 minutes to read crucial documents before Cabinet meetings; this is not a serious constitutional approach."

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar cast doubt over a special summit of EU leaders taking place later this month to sign off on a withdrawal agreement. He said: "I do think with every day that passes the possibility of having a special summit in November become less likely."

He added that a scheduled meeting of leaders in mid-December would still be a workable deadline, but after that the no-deal scenario becomes very real.

Belfast Telegraph

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