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The finding of Contempt of Parliament was made in response to the government’s anti-democratic refusal to publish the full legal advice on Brexit despite MPs passing a binding motion demanding they do so.
This evening in the Commons, the government initially lost a vote on their own amendment which would have seen the case referred to the Parliamentary standards committee by a slim majority of 311 votes to 307.
However, following this first embarrassing defeat, Theresa May’s Tories then faced a vote by MPs on whether they believed the government to be in contempt of Parliament regarding their decision not to publish the full legal advice on Brexit.
On this main vote, MPs voted by an even bigger margin – of 311 to 293 – to find the government guilty, making them the first UK government ever to suffer this ignominy.
And, in a further blow to the Prime Minister, the vote means that Theresa May’s Tories will now be forced to publish the full Brexit legal advice.
In addition, it has also been suggested that the Conservative Party’s Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, may also be forced to resign as a result of the astonishing and unprecedented decision.
Government humiliated and found in contempt of parliament – by 311 to 293
— Robert Peston (@Peston) December 4, 2018
A massive win for Labour and a huge blow for the government. The phrase "Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn" just edged a little closer.
— Iain Dale ⚒️ (@IainDale) December 4, 2018
Responding to the vote, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer declared the finding of contempt of Parliament against the government as “unprecedented” and demanded that the full legal advice was finally published.
Following Starmer’s brief statement, the Conservative Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom responded by announcing the government would finally respect the democratic will of Parliament by publishing the “full and final” Brexit legal advice.
As the result of the incredible vote was being declared, one Labour MP summed up the sheer despair amongst Tory MPs by gleefully stating “look at their faces!“:
At the moment the government's defeat was announced in the Commons, one MP can be heard gleefully saying "look at their faces!" pic.twitter.com/ecT3OXr1od
— Joey D'Urso (@josephmdurso) December 4, 2018
Whilst another Labour MP declared that the unprecedented decision would mark “the beginning of the end” for Theresa May’s government:
“The beginning of the end,” shouts out one Labour MP. Could well be…
— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) December 4, 2018
The government has now pledged to publish the full and final Brexit legal advice before the meaningful vote of Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal on Tuesday 11th December.
However, the government have initially referred the decision to the Commons Privileges Committee (CPC) to establish the constitutional repercussions of releasing the advice.
The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, declared that it would be “unimaginable” that the referral would lead to MPs not being able to read the full legal advice before the meaningful vote on December 11th.
However, it is entirely possible that the government may use the CPC referral to delay publication until the very last minute.