Release of the legal advice is the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for deal

Geoffrey Cox listens as Andrea Leadsom speaks in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire.

Geoffrey Cox listens as Andrea Leadsom speaks in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Critics of the government's Brexit deal have said that the publication of the legal advice confirms that we are now 'neither leaving nor remaining'.

The six-page 33-paragraph document by attorney general Geoffrey Cox was released to MPs a day after the House of Commons found the government in contempt of Parliament for trying to keep it secret.

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The letter, dated November 13, emerged just minutes before Theresa May faced MPs in a weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions ahead of the second day of a five-day Commons debate on her deal.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said that the 33-paragraph document revealed 'the central weaknesses in the Government's deal'.

The advice warned: 'In the absence of a right of termination, there is a legal risk that the United Kingdom might become subject to protracted and repeating rounds of negotiations.

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'This risk must be weighed against the political and economic imperative on both sides to reach an agreement that constitutes a politically stable and permanent basis for their future relationship.

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'This is a political decision for the government.'

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Sir Keir said: 'Having reviewed the attorney general's legal advice, it's obvious why this needed to be placed in the public domain.

'All week we have heard from government ministers that releasing this information could harm the national interest. Nothing of the sort.

'All this advice reveals is the central weaknesses in the government's deal.

'It is unthinkable that the government tried to keep this information from Parliament - and indeed the public - before next week's vote.'

Best for Britain champion Ian Murray MP said: 'We now know there is no mechanism that enables the government to lawfully exit the backstop without the agreement of both parties, locking the UK in it indefinitely and costing £39bn for the privilege. All the time whilst making people poorer.

'This is the worst of all worlds, transforming the UK into a long-term rule taker with no say.

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'It begs the question, what is the point of May's deal as we are neither leaving nor remaining? That's why this has united Leavers and Remainers in horror.

'I'm particularly concerned that only Northern Ireland could be left in the EU customs territory, which risks fracturing the United Kingdom. Theresa May claims the Union is 'precious' to her, but she is pursuing a deal that will weaken the Union, which proves she can't be trusted to protect it.'

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