Leadsom rejects claims Government was in contempt of Parliament on Brexit advice
The Commons Leader made the comments after shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer moved a motion to find the Government in contempt.
Andrea Leadsom denied accusations that the Government has acted in contempt of Parliament by refusing to publish legal advice on the Brexit deal.
The Commons Leader said ministers had treated MPs “with the greatest of respect” as she argued that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox had gone out of his way to satisfy Parliament’s motion calling for the release of the full legal text provided to Cabinet on Theresa May’s deal.
Mr Cox, who is the Government’s chief legal adviser, published an overview of his legal advice on Monday but opposition parties said that, by limiting the information released, ministers had ignored the demands of MPs.
The reality is, yet again, by its amendment, the Government is simply playing for time in the hope that this ends up in the long grass until the crucial vote is long gone Sir Keir Starmer
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, moving a motion of contempt, told MPs the Government had been “wilfully refusing to comply” with the binding Commons order.
Sir Keir, addressing the Government amendment which asks a committee to examine claims that ministers are in contempt of Parliament over the issue, said: “There is nothing to refer – a binding order was made and the Government is refusing to comply with it.
“The reality is, yet again, by its amendment, the Government is simply playing for time in the hope that this ends up in the long grass until the crucial vote is long gone.”
Mrs Leadsom, responding to the contempt motion, warned MPs they must “exercise caution in this matter”.
She said: “The use of this motion has happened very rarely in the history of Parliament and I don’t think any member of this House can be in any doubt that the information that the Attorney General provided yesterday was a very frank assessment of the legal position.
“The questions posed by members on all sides addressed the key issues we must all consider on the legal effect of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
In this Mother of Parliaments, surely we are nothing if we don’t uphold our own constitutional process? Andrea Leadsom
She added: “No honourable member could say in all honesty that the Attorney General has done anything other than treat this House with the greatest of respect, there can be no question that he or the Government has acted in a manner which is contemptuous of this House.”
Tory grandee Ken Clarke intervened to ask Mrs Leadsom if the advice could be provided to opposition MPs under privy council terms.
She rejected the idea, however, telling MPs: “He wants all legal advice to be put into the public domain without any attempt at protecting the national interest.”
Mrs Leadsom concluded by saying: “In this Mother of Parliaments, surely we are nothing if we don’t uphold our own constitutional process?
“I appeal to all members right across this House that, if they seek to pass this amendment, they should refer it to the committee in line with our parliamentary procedures and I urge all members to support the Government’s amendment.”
Conservative Sir William Cash criticised the Attorney General for talking down to MPs.
He said: “It’s most unsatisfactory for this issue to be regarded as a parlour game and we were then told to ‘stop messing around’ with the process and to ‘grow up’.
“I do think that somewhat under-estimates the significance of what we’re dealing with.”
SNP Brexit spokesman Peter Grant said: “A contempt of this Parliament is a contempt for the fundamental principle of the sovereignty of the people.
“A contempt of this Parliament is a contempt for the people.
“A Government that seeks to place itself above the expressed will of this Parliament is a Government in contempt of the people and it is a Government that has already taken a dangerous step down the road from democracy towards dictatorship.”
Conservative MP Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) argued against the contempt motion and said she believed Mr Cox had “told us the worst” when describing what would happen with the Irish border backstop.
She added: “I believe no MP with any conscience – given what the Attorney General told us yesterday – could actually vote for the Withdrawal Agreement because he pulled no punches, he told us the worst it can actually be.”