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Government on ropes in key debate

MPs inflict three Brexit defeats on wounded Prime Minister

Theresa May at Brexit debateDubious distinction: Theresa May is the first PM to lead a government in contempt of parliament


Theresa May’s government became the first to be held in contempt by Parliament after losing a key vote in the Commons which will now force it to publish in full the legal advice it received on Brexit.

It was the biggest of three defeats suffered by the Prime Minister as she vainly attempted to sell her Brexit agreement to a sceptical House of Commons.

A motion demanding full disclosure of the legal advice, backed by six opposition parties, was supported by 311 votes to 293.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom indicated the attorney general’s full and final advice would be released on Wednesday.

Earlier, an attempt by ministers to refer the whole issue to a committee of MPs was defeated by four votes.

A third defeat was inflicted on Mrs May by MPs who backed calls for the Commons to have a direct say in what happens if her deal is rejected next Tuesday.

Kier StarmerLabour’s Brexit spokesman Kier Starmer, pictured, said the contempt vote was an unprecedented move in British politics.

The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, had argued that the public interest did not permit the publication of the advice. Instead it published a summary of the advice and Mr Cox took questions in the Commons on Monday.

However, Mr Starmer said the government was “wilfully refusing” to comply with a binding order to release the legal advice on its Brexit deal, putting it in contempt of parliament. He was backed by opposition parties including Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party, whose votes the government relies on for a majority.

Following the vote the pound fell against the dollar to $1.2709.

Shadow Scotland Secretary Lesley Laird said: “In what is just the latest example of how catastrophically Theresa May is handling Brexit, her government is now the first in history to be held in contempt by Parliament.

“The fact ministers had refused to release the full and final legal advice on the deal showed how desperate they were to hide from public scrutiny and accountability. 

“This was never about party politics, it was about how our democracy operates.”

The BBC also dropped plans for live television debate after failing to resolve disagreements over the format.

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