Theresa May’s government has suffered three humiliating Commons defeats in little more than an hour as she battled to keep her Brexit plans on track.
The prime minister appeared before MPs to begin five days of debate on her Brexit deal shortly after bowing to demands to publish the ‘final and full’ legal advice given to Cabinet about it.
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed the u-turn over the legal advice after MPs decided her ministers were in ‘contempt’ of Parliament.
A motion tabled by Labour, the SNP, other opposition parties and the DUP which argued ministers were in contempt due to their failure to fully publish advice given to Cabinet by attorney general Geoffrey Cox was approved by 311 votes to 293, majority 18.
It also ordered the ‘immediate publication’ of the legal advice.
Leadsom said: ‘We’ve tested the opinion of the House twice on this very serious subject.
‘We’ve listened carefully and in light of the expressed will of the House we will publish the final and full advice provided by the attorney general to Cabinet but recognising the very serious constitutional issues this raises I have referred the matter to the privileges committee to consider the implications of the humble address.’
MPs had earlier rejected a government amendment to the motion, which Labour argued sought to kick the issue into the ‘long grass’ until after the vote on the Brexit deal, by 311 votes to 307, majority four.
This amendment asked for the Committee of Privileges to question whether ministers were in contempt of Parliament over the issue and could have delayed any publication of the advice.
The third defeat came when Tory former minister Dominic Grieve’s amendment, which aims to give MPs a greater say should the Brexit deal be defeated on December 11, was approved by 321 votes to 299, majority 22.
Dominic Grieve MP, a leading supporter of People’s Vote, said MPs had started to ‘take back control’ of Brexit.
He said: ‘Parliament has tonight asserted its sovereignty to ensure that amendments – such as for a People’s Vote – can be made to any motion if or when the government’s proposed deal for leaving the EU has been defeated.
‘MPs are tonight starting the process of taking back control. No longer must the will of Parliament – reflecting the will of the people – be diminished.
‘More and more MPs are concluding that the Government’s proposed deal is not what was promised two years ago, it’s a much worse deal than the one we’ve already got in the EU and, if approved would mean Brexit goes on forever because it leaves all the big questions unanswered.
‘Parliament must now take back control and then give the final decision back to the public because, in the end, only the people can sort this out.’