There have been 12 exchanges between Robert Buckland and Attorney General
|Tue 9th April 2019||Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019||41 interactions (1,962 words)|
|Tue 19th February 2019||Northern Ireland Backstop (Urgent Question)||74 interactions (2,417 words)|
|Thu 29th November 2018||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice (Urgent Question)||86 interactions (2,477 words)|
|Tue 13th November 2018||EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice||7 interactions (1,905 words)|
|Wed 13th June 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||114 interactions (6,871 words)|
|Tue 22nd May 2018||Child Sexual Exploitation and Consent to Sexual Intercourse (Westminster Hall)||6 interactions (1,406 words)|
|Tue 15th May 2018||Public Legal Education (Westminster Hall)||9 interactions (1,812 words)|
|Tue 16th January 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||31 interactions (2,665 words)|
|Mon 11th December 2017||Shooting of Abdulkarim Boudiaf||2 interactions (1,622 words)|
|Wed 6th December 2017||Unduly Lenient Sentences (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,641 words)|
|Wed 15th November 2017||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||84 interactions (4,905 words)|
|Thu 29th June 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||36 interactions (1,121 words)|
Well, it is essentially a negativing, but the hon. Gentleman can expatiate on the matter if he is successful in catching my eye. It is always a pleasure to call Mr Peter Bone. To move the motion, I call the Minister—the Solicitor General, no less.
When my hon. and learned Friend says that we need to have left by 23 May, that is the date the election actually takes place. Will he inform the House of the latest date possible for the returning officer to publish the notice of poll and start the process of those elections?
I think the Solicitor General said earlier that what we have to do is find a way to find a plan to find a way forward. That sounds just a little bit nebulous, if he does not mind me saying so; it seems quite unlikely that that is going to be very concrete by 30 June. So if the European Council says, “Actually, we think you need to have an extension to the end of the year,” will the Government be open to that?
It seems to me that the Solicitor General is simply giving the House a reality check as to the position that we have been put into by Members who voted in various ways. But is not the situation in law that, although it might be necessary to participate in elections—which neither he nor I nor, I think, most of us want—as a matter of law, the outgoing European Parliament exists until the moment that the new Parliament is created, and therefore there are certain things that could take place, such as ratification of any agreement, until the point that the new Parliament meets; also, the argument that British presence might impugn the new Parliament would not exist if we have left by that time?
I just want to clear up something that I heard my hon. and learned Friend say. I think I heard him say at the Dispatch Box that it was wholly feasible that the Government may actually end up fighting the European elections, then only after that not allow its MEPs to take their seats—say they had been given an extension, but somehow we had managed to ratify the deal. Is that correct? Is it Government policy that we would go as far as to fight an election but not take our seats at the end of it?
Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin), will the Solicitor General give the House an assurance that, bearing in mind that postal votes will be cast before polling day, no one who casts a vote will find that the election in which they have cast that vote is cancelled after they have marked their cross on the piece of paper?
That goes to the very heart of the issue. I have no objection to supporting this afternoon’s Government motion for extension, but I am mindful that we cannot go on lurching from one cliff-edge crisis to another. Unless the Government are able to craft a deal that commands a majority of this House, we must bear it in mind that 22 May or 30 June are not very far away. That concerns me. I would much prefer an opportunity, if necessary, for a longer and fungible extension, which enables us to make some decisions without the pressure we are under. Finally, with respect to the Bill passed through this House yesterday, I make the point that, like the nuclear deterrent, it works because we do not have to use it.
Further to the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I appreciate that the Solicitor General will not get into what might or might not be discussed at the European Council, and I appreciate his sincerity about wanting to get a deal agreed as soon as possible, but the reality is that many of us will support the motion conditional on our expectation that the Prime Minister will listen seriously and consider any longer options suggested, such as flextension, fungible extension or whatever we want to call them. I ask for his assurance that the Prime Minister will listen carefully to any offers put forward by other European leaders.
Is there little point to the British Government setting their red lines for the extension of the extension, because the decision on its length and the conditions attached will be made tomorrow by the European Council, with the British state outside the room?
In the event of a whole swathe of MEPs being elected but not taking their seats, will they be entitled to compensation? Will the Solicitor General assure us that that compensation will be paid for not by our constituents but by the EU?
The Solicitor General talks about compromise, but he overlooks the fact that certainly most of us on the Opposition Benches voted for every single one of the four options before us last week; the problem was that most Conservative MPs and the Government did not vote for any of them.
My hon. and learned Friend is chopping about with various dates that he would prefer, and he keeps making the obvious point that article 50 can come to an end if and when we have support for a withdrawal agreement, which I have supported all the way through. Would not the best thing be to take some far distant date and give us a proper extension—saying, of course, that it will end forthwith, as soon as any withdrawal agreement is passed? I think that is being proposed in Brussels at the moment, and I cannot think of the slightest sensible reason against it. We cannot keep having these ridiculous cliff-edge debates, moving the date forward by a fortnight or a month every now and again.
What advice would my hon. and learned Friend give me to pass on to council candidates for the forthcoming local elections? For two years, they have been telling constituents that we were leaving on 29 March; then it became 12 April. We now have a wipe-clean board in my office so we can fill in the current date that we are leaving. What should our candidates be telling people on the doorstep?
Is not the point that whether the delay is two weeks, two months or two years, it is not time that is needed, but political will to come to a deal? People such as me have made compromises—there is much in the withdrawal agreement that I do not like—to move to a position to support the withdrawal agreement. Is it not about time that other Members of this House were willing to do the same?
There is only time for one or two more interventions because lots of people want to speak—move on.
Six times now, the Solicitor General has said that the best way to move forward is to agree a deal and that, if we are to have a Brexit at all, that is self-evidently true. The problem is that we are not being offered a deal; we have been offered the deal—the Prime Minister’s deal. Is this not the time to concede that it is a bad deal socially and economically, and that that is the reason why the Government are in the position they are in?
Just to support what my hon. and learned Friend says, business says very clearly to us that the deal is good enough for it. Is he aware that the mini-extensions are really difficult, particularly for manufacturing? The car factories are shut down at the moment in anticipation of disruption. They cannot just open up and shut down on these cliff edges, so flexibility is essential.
This is a point we have been debating among ourselves here. I gather that the European Parliament has already divvied up the seats, so to speak. What will happen if we take our seats and then do not take our seats? Surely what is being proposed will throw the whole thing into confusion.
The motion before us is a straightforward one. I note the Solicitor General’s remark that he did not want to be here, but the more pertinent point is that we should not have found ourselves here. When Parliament voted overwhelmingly to give the Prime Minister the authority to trigger article 50 and begin the negotiations, we never expected that we would be in this position two years later.
The Government should be mortified that they have been forced to ask once again for the House’s approval to seek an extension to the article 50 process, not only because the fact that another extension is required is a damning indictment of their mishandling of the negotiations and their failure to secure a deal that commands the confidence of the Commons, but because the very fact that we are being asked to approve the motion before us, pursuant to an unconventional Act of Parliament spearheaded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and passed last week in the face of Government opposition, is testament to the serious erosion of trust between the Executive and this legislature. If right hon. and hon. Members are weary, it is first and foremost a weariness of the undeliverable promises made by this Government and the false expectations that have consistently been raised, whether it be the Brady amendment or the Malthouse compromise.
Even this morning, contrary to all the available evidence and the constancy of the EU position, the Leader of the House chose to give credence to the fantastical notion that the EU, at the same time as considering another extension request, might also entirely shift its position and agree to reopen the withdrawal agreement. It is long past time that Government Ministers stopped peddling myths to indulge the hardliners on their own Benches and advance their personal agendas.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Attorney General if he will make a statement on options for legally binding changes to the Northern Ireland protocol of the EU withdrawal agreement, which contains the backstop arrangement.
Order. Do not tell me what the situation is. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a Law Officer and a member of the Government. A sentence, but absolutely no more. He should have asked me in advance. He is either on the Front Bench or he is not. It is not for him to presume the right to speak of a matter about which he could speak if he sat on the Back Benches, which he does not.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Solicitor General for responding. The reality is that there are 38 days until we leave the EU, and in all likelihood eight days until the next round of voting, and we are nowhere nearer having any further clarity on this issue. All this time, our economy, our jobs and our futures are affected by that uncertainty.
On 29 January, the Prime Minister told the House:
“What I am talking about is not a further exchange of letters but a significant and legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement. Negotiating such a change will not be easy. It will involve reopening the withdrawal agreement”.—[Official Report, 29 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 678.]
Can the Solicitor General confirm that it is still Government policy to formally reopen the withdrawal agreement? If not, what positive, concrete proposals are the Government suggesting? Can he confirm whether the Government have actually put forward those proposals as options to the European Commission and the European Council?
Yesterday, on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, the Minister for the Cabinet Office said:
“The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, is closely involved with the negotiations too, and he will be making a speech on Tuesday to set out how, in his view, the legal tests that he has set, about ensuring that the so-called backstop cannot be used to trap the United Kingdom indefinitely, could be met and overcome.”
Can the Solicitor General clarify exactly what the Attorney General’s role is in the negotiations and when he will publish those legal tests? Are the Government seeking, as is reported in the media, a “joint interpretive instrument” on the withdrawal agreement, some sort of annexe to it, another exchange of letters, or changes to the political declaration?
We are about to make a momentous decision on the future of our country. The Government need to be clear with this House about precisely what their strategy is. Running down the clock is reckless and irresponsible. Surely this nation deserves better than a Government wandering in the wilderness, not even sure about what their next move is.
I understand the dangers of a running commentary, but I have a little difficulty understanding by what process we have reached this point. As far as I can see, the serious negotiations are with the Democratic Unionist party and the European Research Group in my party to see what modifications to the withdrawal agreement we have negotiated they will accept. Ministers then go to Brussels to demand that the European Union accepts the changes and threaten it with leaving without a deal if the changes are not made. As my hon. and learned Friend understands it, are those roughly the tactics being pursued? Why does he think any European politician should accept a situation whereby the permanent open border in Ireland is subject to being terminated by the British Government at any stage they want or having an end date put on it, which seems to me a contradiction? Finally, does he think that the hard-liners in the ERG would accept even that, even if my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General produces some ingenious form of words that seems to make it legally binding?
This morning, France’s Europe Minister, Nathalie Loiseau, said that there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement. In saying that, she was simply echoing what has been said repeatedly by Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Leo Varadkar. That was the position made crystal clear to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union when we met Martin Selmayr on 4 February. He said that the most the EU would be prepared to contemplate was an additional legal instrument or a codicil to the agreement, which would incorporate the sort of assurances set out in the letter from Tusk and Juncker dated 14 January but which would not contradict or change the existing text of the agreement. Can the Solicitor General confirm that that is still the position of the EU and that there is no question of the withdrawal agreement being opened up and renegotiated in relation to anything, let alone the backstop? Will he confirm that it is clear that there will be no time limit or unilateral exit clause to the backstop? If his position is that he does not want to give this House a running commentary, why is the Attorney General supposed to be elsewhere today, giving a speech about what is proposed, not to this House, but to I know not who? Is it true that that speech has been cancelled? If so, why has it been cancelled?
As you know, Mr Speaker, I raised this matter urgently with you yesterday. Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that it is essential that when the Attorney General has had his discussions with the EU, he tables, in compliance with his parliamentary obligations, any asserted “legally binding” treaty text, in black and white, in the House itself by Monday 25 February, so that my European Scrutiny Committee can fully assess and report to the House on its legal meaning and the substance, and he does not merely address some audience at a City law firm?
If the technology that could keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic as it is today existed, there would be no need for the backstop. The Solicitor General knows that that technology does not exist, and no one can say when it might become available. In those circumstances, will he please explain to the House how the Government can credibly ask for either a time limit or a unilateral exit clause, particularly when he knows that the EU has made it very clear that it has no intention of giving either?
Does the Solicitor General agree that whatever agreement is arrived at with Brussels, we must get away from the idea that the potentially forever customs union is seen as basecamp for our future trading relationship?
Has the Solicitor General seen the study published yesterday by Irish Senator Mark Daly, in conjunction with two UNESCO chairmen, on the danger of a return to violence in Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Given that Senator Daly says that his report
“highlights the responsibility of the UK government to stand by the backstop”,
what weight have Her Majesty’s Government given to the cause of peace in their discussions on the backstop?
The Solicitor General has told the House clearly that the Government will not provide a running commentary on the negotiations—unless, of course, it is Olly Robbins, the Government’s chief negotiator, who can get hammered in a bar in Brussels and give a detailed running commentary to anybody who happens to be in earshot. That is extremely unprofessional behaviour for a senior civil servant. A Minister who did that would be sacked. What disciplinary action has been taken against Mr Robbins? Or does he get away with it because he is teacher’s pet?
Everybody knows that there is not going to be any hard border in Ireland and, given what Michel Barnier said, everybody knows that even in the event of a no-deal Brexit operational ways would be found so that there were no controls or checks, so all this is scaremongering. It is not going to happen. Anyone who knows anything about Irish politics knows that no Irish Government will introduce a hard border on the island of Ireland. That is the reality of the situation. The fact of the matter is that the Prime Minister has, as the Solicitor General knows, given a commitment to reopen the withdrawal agreement and to seek legally binding changes to the treaty itself. Yesterday, Simon Coveney ruled out legally binding language even outside the withdrawal agreement. Does the Solicitor General accept that some of the rhetoric coming from the Irish Government and others is bringing about the very thing that they say they want to avoid, which is the possibility of no deal?
On the subject of calmness, I think we should hear from a Lincolnshire knight. I call Sir Edward Leigh.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is really a taster for what will be a very calm debate: my Adjournment debate on Thursday on this very subject, which I am sure will be the highlight of the week. I do not ask the Solicitor General to provide running commentary, but has he noted that many international lawyers have said that if the EU does not want to reopen the withdrawal agreement, it would be entirely in accordance with international law for us to issue, either unilaterally or in agreement, a conditional interpretive declaration proclaiming that there will be an end date to the backstop? It is something that I have been boring on about for weeks now.
The right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is quite wrong. He is far too hard on himself. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for 25 years and have never been bored by him on any occasion. Never.
I wonder whether the Solicitor General minds my putting on record, and I hope he will also put on record, the distaste that we felt at that personal attack from the Back Benches—I think from a member of the European Research Group—on a civil servant who is trying to do his job. The job that civil servants are trying to do is a very difficult one and the people responsible for that difficulty are the Government, not the civil servants trying to do a good job.
Does the Solicitor General agree that we need a running commentary in this House? I am glad that he has made this statement today, because the fact of the matter is that at a certain juncture in this dialogue we are supposed to be having to find the answer to this difficult problem, the Government side stopped talking to people. Will he resume the talks so that we can get this sorted?
I find this urgent question from the Opposition somewhat bizarre, as only last Thursday the Opposition Brexit spokesperson, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), said that he had no problems with the backstop at all. For the avoidance of doubt, will the Solicitor General confirm again that the Government stand firmly behind all their commitments on the Belfast Good Friday agreement?
The Attorney General made a rather snippy remark, if I may say so, about my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) having made a comment from the sidelines, and then implied that the solutions to this situation were as much in my hon. Friend’s hands as in the Solicitor General’s. He cannot have it both ways. Has the Solicitor General invited my hon. Friend to be part of the solution—yes or no?
Does the Solicitor General agree with the widely reported comments of Olly Robbins, the Prime Minister’s chief negotiator, who, I believe, spoke in vino veritas when he said that he saw the backstop as a bridge to a future partnership? Clearly, that is a future partnership involving a customs union, which would prevent our having an independent free trade policy. If he does not agree with him on behalf of the Government, why is Mr Robbins still in his position?
The Solicitor General seeks to justify the problem that is Brexit by insisting that the backstop is the problem. I understand that he wants to sympathise with the manufacturing communities in Swindon, Wales and elsewhere that are waking up to job losses, but it is difficult because he is in the Government. Given the evidence, how can the Government, abetted by the Labour Front-Bench team, continue to defend their myopia, their self-interest, and their talent for procrastination? When will he admit their part in this problem?
First, may I thank my hon. and learned Friend for making it clear that there are viable alternative arrangements, which the Government are discussing, arising from the so-called Brady amendment? Last week, President Tusk tweeted that no concrete proposals had been received from the UK Government. Will he now confirm that these proposals have been presented as Government policy to the European Union?
Will the Solicitor General tell us whether the Government have made it clear to the European Union in negotiations that its insistence on the backstop will prove the most expensive financial and political wrongdoing of the past 60 years? There cannot be a hard border because of the complexity of the border on the island of Ireland.
It is, of course, entirely reasonable that the Solicitor General should decline to conduct a running commentary on the progress of the negotiations, but can he at least confirm that, in approaching those negotiations, the Government have borne fully in mind the view of this House that the Northern Ireland backstop should be replaced with alternative arrangements—a state of affairs that I suggest would not comprehend a mere interpretative instrument?
Will the Solicitor General please confirm my view that the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement creates a different set of trade rules applying on each side of the Irish sea?
Does this speech by the Attorney General include the assessment that the one thing worse than the backstop would be staying in the EU?
Will the Solicitor General give us an assurance that, if there is any change to the legal advice that the Government receive about the withdrawal agreement or any related documents, that advice will be given to this House before we have the opportunity to vote on any resolution to which it might be relevant?
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that it is not appropriate to provide a running commentary during these negotiations, but does he agree that, during any negotiation, it is not appropriate to remove the option of being able to walk away, because that is what focuses the mind?
We have heard all the usual excuses today: blame the civil service; blame Brussels; blame Ireland for what is an entirely British-made problem. As long ago as December 2017, the Government, with the full support of the Democratic Unionist party, gave a binding commitment to provide a solution that would make their customs union red lines compatible with the Belfast agreement. Is it not the case that the only reason that the backstop will ever exist is because the Government have failed to deliver on those commitments? Will the Solicitor General not finally admit that, when it becomes clear that leaving the customs union and the single market is incompatible with the Belfast agreement, the Belfast agreement has to stay and the Government’s red lines have to go?
The Solicitor General is not only a great fighter for workers in his constituency, but a canny negotiator for Government. Does he agree that, rather than Members of this place parroting position lines from EU 27 Government Ministers about how difficult it would be, we need to hold our nerve and keep our best card? That way, we will get a deal and ensure that we deliver democracy at the same time.
As colleagues will know, the word “rum” was much favoured by PG Wodehouse of whose works, I suspect, the Solicitor General is, among others, a devotee.
The Solicitor General says it is in the fate of the Labour party to help him secure a deal, but that simply is not true. What concessions, if any, will the Government make towards the deal that the Labour party has put down as a potential way through this? He knows that I have given his Government the benefit of the doubt on more than one occasion by not supporting things that my party has asked me to, and actively opposing things on other occasions. I did not support the Government on the Brady amendment, but nor did I oppose it, because I believed it was important that the Government had the space to conduct negotiations to get a deal through. The wording of that amendment quite clearly said that the backstop should be “replaced”, so can the Solicitor General tell me, without equivocation, that when he brings that deal back, the backstop will have been replaced?
The Solicitor General will recall, as I do, that the House expressed a clear view on 29 January, and I am pleased to note that the Government are now negotiating to try to implement that and bring something back. Can he confirm, however, that it is right not to give a running commentary on this, and that anyway the House will have an opportunity next week to debate and vote on this matter again?
This morning, the Health Secretary said that the NHS is spending £11 million preparing for no deal. In January, this House voted for the Spelman-Dromey amendment to take no deal off the table, so can the Solicitor General explain why the Government are ignoring the will of the Commons by trying to keep no deal on the table, and spending that £11 million unnecessarily?
Is it the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements?
On 29 January, I voted for the Brady amendment to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements. I praise my hon. and learned Friend for his personal role in helping to develop the Malthouse compromise. With regard to the second meaningful vote, whenever it comes, may I urge him to emphasise to colleagues across the Government that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same experiment and expect a different result?
Although I recognise the challenging position of many Opposition MPs, does the Solicitor General share my amazement at those Opposition MPs who say they cannot support the withdrawal agreement because it may include a temporary backstop, keeping us temporarily in the customs union but not paying into the coffers and without freedom of movement, and simultaneously advocate a permanent customs union that would stop us from doing international trade deals?
Break in Debate
Rather than having to agree with the European Union whether we have met our obligations to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, would it not be fair and reasonable to both sides to refer the matter to a process of arbitration?
Last week, I listened with great attention and respect to the former Taoiseach of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, as he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union. He made the point that leaving with no deal would be extremely damaging to people on both sides of the border, both Republic of Ireland businesses and Northern Ireland businesses—particularly indigenous businesses, not so much international businesses. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that for that reason it is incredibly important that this matter is resolved, and that the withdrawal agreement is passed with support right across this House?
Is it not the case that the time for running around Europe with ambitious schemes that will not be accepted is over, that that simply increases the chances of a no-deal exit and that the requests for any changes need to be detailed and precise? So can my hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Government will be going in with a targeted micro-surgery approach, not trying to blast the withdrawal agreement with a scattergun?
(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will make a statement on the publication of the Attorney General’s legal advice on the proposed withdrawal agreement.
Not good enough.
Mr Speaker, nobody who was present in the debate on 13 November, including the Solicitor General, could be in any doubt about what the House was asking for. During that debate I stated that
“the motion requires the publication of the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the terms of any withdrawal agreement. This must be made available to all MPs. It is to be published after any withdrawal agreement is reached with the EU, but in good time to allow proper consideration before MPs are asked to vote on the deal.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 235.]
The motion was passed unanimously on those terms, and when it was passed, I made it clear that those were its terms.
It was perfectly clear to Ministers, including the Solicitor General who spoke at the end of the debate, that the House was not asking for a position paper or a summary of the Attorney General’s advice. That was the offer made from the Dispatch Box during the debate, and it was roundly rejected, as the Solicitor General knows full well. The binding motion that was passed was for nothing less than for the full and final legal advice provided by the Attorney General. It is therefore wholly unacceptable, and frankly shows contempt for this House, for Ministers, including the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box yesterday, now to pretend that the House was asking only for partial or qualified legal advice. If the Government are not willing to comply with the order of the House, why did they and the Solicitor General not vote against the motion?
In 12 days’ time, this House will have to take the most important decision it has taken for a generation, and MPs are entitled to know the full legal consequences of the deal that the Prime Minister is asking them to support. That is why the order was made, and why it must be complied with. Throughout the Brexit process, the Government have repeatedly tried to sideline and push Parliament away. If they now intend to ignore Parliament altogether, they will get into very deep water indeed. I urge the Solicitor General to think again and to comply with the order of the House.
Order. Everybody will have a chance to contribute on this most important and solemn of matters, but just as the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) was heard in relative quiet, so must similar courtesy be extended to the Solicitor General. Everybody will get a chance to put his or her point of view—of that there need be no doubt.
Who needs legal advice to know a trap when they see one?
I commend the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) on securing this urgent question. A dangerous pattern is developing here. First, the Government tried to avoid their obligations under a previous Humble Address to release their impact assessments, and on two instances, senior Conservative ex-Ministers were given guarantees by Ministers at the Dispatch Box, which they then claimed publicly had been broken. Now we see the Government trying to wriggle out of yet another binding decision of this House.
Mr Speaker, this is not the time or the place to re-run the discussion about whether it was a good idea for that motion on an Humble Address to have been passed. How ironic that the Government want to re-run a debate on something that has already been voted on—just think about that! This is not the time to discuss its merits. As has been said, if the Government did not want to comply with the instruction, they should have instructed their MPs to vote against it. The reason they did not was that they knew they would have lost the vote.
Does the Solicitor General accept the ruling of the Chair that this decision is binding on the Government? If so, when do the Government intend to comply with the instruction they have had from representatives of the sovereign citizens of these islands?
The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the shadow Secretary of State, said during his speech:
“I wanted the Government to see the good sense in putting the legal position before the House, for all the exceptional reasons that have been set out”.—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 194.]
Accepting that, is that not precisely what the Attorney General intends to do and will be able to do on Monday?
The Solicitor General should be aware that I, and probably others in this House, have written to Mr Speaker asking whether this is a matter of contempt. I suspect we may find it easier to get 48 letters than others have found. Can the Solicitor General confirm whether the Government will fight any contempt proceedings? Has he identified who in the Government would be the subject of contempt proceedings? 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 11 December and any votes that come after, the Government may decide to play fast and loose with what is the normal procedure in this place?
While the Opposition may wish to play fast and loose with the national interest, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be wholly irresponsible to publish material which could or would damage the national interest?
The Solicitor General is repeating the offer that was made during the debate on 13 November and repeating what the Prime Minister said yesterday, but that was not accepted by the House. The House unanimously adopted a binding resolution in the terms that the Opposition spokesperson has outlined, so why does the Solicitor General not listen and the Government start listening? This has been the problem all along. What is it that they have to hide?
Will my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is the role of the Government always to put the national interest at the heart of any decision?
In my experience, when someone smells a rat, it is usually a good idea to set a trap. The Solicitor General will be aware that the Prime Minister wants everybody in the House to make a sensible decision based on all the information available to us. Should we not, then, have the fullest possible legal advice in as timely a manner as possible if we are to arrive at a sensible decision?
I must confess that I remain as confused as I was on 13 November about precisely what is being requested. What differences are there between the position now and the position the Government were in when advice was provided concerning Iraq?
Can the Solicitor General outline the legal implications of Northern Ireland entering into a customs union—including, to all intents and purposes, a united Ireland—with no voice or vote for an indefinite period and without the mechanism of a border poll, as called for in the Belfast agreement?