Cox: Motion requesting 'full and final' legal advice was 'too vague'

PUBLISHED: 12:22 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 13:26 04 December 2018

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

The attorney general has written to the speaker to claim a motion requesting "full and final" legal advice on Brexit was too "vague" to comply.

The attorney general said that the amended terms of Sir Keir Starmer’s successful motion were “extremely vague and it is not clear what is meant by them”.

Among his concerns were whether “advice” referred to guidance given both orally and in written form, and what was meant by “full and final”.

He added: “Unless there is clarity on these questions it is simply not possible for the government to know how to comply with the motion.

“It is particularly important that if anyone is to face sanctions for contempt he or she should fairly know how to comply with it.”

It appears to be a new argument compared to what was argued in the House of Commons shortly before the letter was written.

Cox said that the issue should be referred to the privileges committee for investigation, and that it should also look at how MPs can use “humble address” motions to force publication of confidential documents.

He added that he believed the government had “gone out of its way” to satisfy Parliament’s motion.

Finally he called on John Bercow to explain what would happen if the opposition parties’ motion is carried.

Signed by all five opposition parties including the DUP, it states: “This House finds ministers in contempt for their failure to comply with the requirements of the motion for return passed on 13 November 2018, to publish the final and full legal advice provided by the attorney general to the cabinet concerning the EU withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship, and orders its immediate publication.”

Sir Keir Starmer said the government has ignored opposition motions “for months”, adding this tactic has “got them into very deep water indeed”.

He added: “The reality is yet again, by its amendment, the government is simply playing for time in the hope that this ends up in the long grass until the crucial vote is long gone.”

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