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What have you got to hide on Brexit legal advice? DUP's Dodds asks government

DUP's Nigel Dodds
DUP's Nigel Dodds

The DUP has urged the government to explain what it is trying to "hide" as the row over Brexit legal advice spilled into the Commons.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said listening has been the "problem all along" with the Government, as he and Labour pushed for the publication of the full legal advice provided by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox on the deal.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer accused ministers of showing "contempt" for the Commons over the matter, while senior Liberal Democrat Tom Brake confirmed he has written to Speaker John Bercow asking whether the Government's response to the motion approved by MPs is a matter of contempt.

MPs earlier this month approved a Labour motion which called for the publication of any legal advice in full on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement, with the Government committing to only giving a "full, reasoned position statement" and offering a question and answer session in the Commons with Mr Cox.

Opposition parties and others want to consider the advice ahead of the December 11 vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit agreement.

Speaking during an urgent question on the matter, Mr Dodds said Solicitor General Robert Buckland had repeated offers which were not accepted by the Commons.

He added: "So why doesn't the Solicitor General listen and the Government start listening?

"This has been the problem all along. What is it they have to hide?"

Mr Buckland, in his reply, said: "This is not an incidence where the Government seeks to delay or hide - this is all about providing information at the right time ahead of the important debate I know he'll be playing an important part in."

Sir Keir, moving the urgent question, earlier said: "It is wholly unacceptable - and frankly shows contempt for this House - for Government ministers, including the Prime Minister at the despatch box yesterday, now to pretend that the House was only asking for partial or qualified legal advice."

Mr Buckland said Sir Keir's request was "wholly premature".

He told the Commons: "The Attorney General is coming to this House on the next sitting day (December 3).

"He will make a full statement, he will answer questions from honourable members right across this House, and it might be then for the House to judge whether or not the Government has discharged its obligations consistent with the Humble Address, but not before."

Former minister Mr Brake added: "Can the Solicitor General confirm whether the Government will fight any contempt proceedings, has he identified in Government who will be the subject of contempt proceedings, and does he agree that this latest snub to Parliament leaves Members of Parliament with a sneaking suspicion that when it comes to the vote on December 11 and any votes that come after, the Government may decide to play fast and loose with what is the normal procedure in this place?"

Mr Buckland said he was being asked to speculate on matters that "might not arise", adding: "There is no snub to Parliament. It's a wholly confected controversy that actually detracts from the real issues that we should be debating and will be looking at next week."

Labour MP Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) said: "The Solicitor General referred in an earlier answer to the legal advice that was published around the Iraq War and he said that was exceptional.

"I think that we are in a more exceptional time than ever before and actually publishing the full legal advice for all members of this House to see before they cast their vote, on a vote that's going to affect generations to come, is absolutely vital."

Mr Buckland rejected the suggestion, telling MPs: "With regard to the Iraq War, a decision was made by Government as to whether or not to use armed force in another country, the legality or otherwise of that decision was quite clearly material and a key issue as to whether or not an action should be taken.

"This is a different set of circumstances, this Government is taking a policy decision based on a range of outcomes with potential risks and potential outcomes that would result, wholly different."

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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