MPs demand Government publishes key prorogation and no-deal Brexit documents
The move comes after files released in a Scottish court appeared to show Boris Johnson approved the suspension of Parliament on August 15.
Boris Johnson’s Government has been told to publish communications connected to prorogation and no-deal Brexit planning after MPs supported an emergency Commons motion.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s demand for all written and electronic contact about the temporary suspension of Parliament and Operation Yellowhammer documents since July 23 to be released was approved by 311 votes to 302, a majority of nine.
He used the parliamentary device of a humble address to the Queen to ask for the documents to be put before the Commons by ministers by no later than 11pm on Wednesday.
Mr Grieve, now sitting as an independent MP after losing his place in the Tory party, said public officials had given him information relating to prorogation that informed him “they believed the handling of this matter smacked of scandal”.
He told MPs: “That places me in a difficulty because it is simply the information that I’ve been given and I want to make absolutely clear that I’m not in a position, any more than I think any member in this House is, to be able to ascertain if that information is mistaken or not.
“I can only say that I believe those sources to be reliable and also, in my experience, it is extraordinarily unusual that I should get such approaches with individuals expressing their disquiet about the handling of this matter and some of the underlying issues to which it could give rise.”
Mr Grieve’s motion asked for all correspondence and communications, formal or informal, including WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Facebook Messenger, private email accounts, text messages, iMessage and official and personal mobile phones connected to the present Government since July 23 relating to prorogation.
It lists key individuals of Mr Johnson’s Government, including senior adviser Dominic Cummings and director of legislative affairs Nikki da Costa.
The demand came after documents released in a Scottish court showed Mr Johnson appeared to have approved the prorogation on August 15, despite subsequent official denials and the public announcement being made nearly two weeks later, on August 28.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox asked what legal right the Government would have to require its employees to “give up private email accounts and personal mobiles”.
He said if there is no legal right, the humble address may not be enforceable.
Mr Grieve replied: “These are Government employees and in the course of their work it is their duty to observe the Civil Service code and to comply with its requirements including, I would respectfully suggest to my right honourable friend the Attorney General, not using private means of communication to carry out official business.”
Mr Cox added: “It is a blunt instrument and in truth what this humble address requires is careful refinement so that it complies with legal rules.”
The Attorney General said there would be a potential binding effect on the Government, but not on individuals. He said the humble address risked a “trespass on fundamental rights of individuals”.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Government must be more open and honest with Parliament about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “The basic lack of trust that exists between the House and the executive is eroding day by day and it is extraordinary to shut down Parliament at this time.
“It is blindingly obvious why we are being shut down, to prevent scrutiny, as there can be no scrutiny if we are not sitting.”
Sir Keir called on the Government to provide information regarding the impact of a no-deal Brexit to MPs at the soonest opportunity.
SNP MP Hannah Bardell (Livingston) said: “That is information that should have been given to the people well ahead of the referendum, and now we’re in the position where we’re having kamikaze-like behaviour from individuals who are going to damage the lives of our constituents.”
Tory Rachel Maclean (Redditch) said her constituents were watching Parliament with “astonishment and frustration” seeing a Commons “completely out of touch” with people.
Conservative former environment secretary Owen Paterson said nine named individuals were largely in “junior” posts.
He added: “I just think before this witch hunt atmosphere continues, would members opposite like to consider they are talking about nine relatively junior members assisting the Government.”
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove called the motion a “fishing expedition”.
On Operation Yellowhammer, Mr Gove said: “The Government is absolutely committed to sharing with this House as much as we can.”
A Government spokesman said in a statement after the vote: “We are disappointed that this Humble Address has passed.
“The Government is committed to sharing appropriate information with Parliament, but we must balance this obligation with the broader public interest, our legal duties and the assurance that ministers can receive full and frank advice that will remain confidential.
“The scope of the information requested in the Humble Address is disproportionate and unprecedented. We will consider the implications of this vote and respond in due course.”