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Overview of Brexit legal advice published amid pressure from MPs

Theresa May

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The UK government has published an overview of the legal advice it received on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Ministers are under pressure from all parties to publish the full advice, with Labour warning of a “constitutional crisis”.

The PM says the advice is confidential, but some MPs think ministers do not want to admit it says the UK could be indefinitely tied to EU customs rules.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will make a statement about it later.

Sam Gyimah, who quit the government on Friday, said releasing the full advice was “key to restoring trust in politics”.

MPs say this will not not respect a binding Commons vote last month, which required the government to lay before Parliament “any legal advice in full”.

His statement to the House of Commons will be followed by five days of debate on the proposed Brexit deal.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has dismissed speculation that the final vote on Mrs May’s deal – due on 11 December – could be delayed, saying he didn’t think there was “any chance” of that.

Speaking on ITV’s This Morning, the prime minister urged MPs to “hold their nerve” and get Brexit “over the line” – suggesting Parliament had a “duty to do what people asked us to do” by taking the UK out of the EU.

“This is not any old vote, this is delivering on what people voted for in the referendum and it is important for us as politicians to remember that,” she said.

Legal issues to the fore

Ahead of the five days of debate on the deal, which begin on Tuesday, Labour is planning to join forces with other parties, including the DUP, which keeps Mrs May in power, to initiate contempt of Parliament proceedings unless the government backs down on publishing the full legal advice.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News: “If they don’t produce the advice… this will be a collision course between the government and Parliament.”

His shadow cabinet colleague Barry Gardiner told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show the prime minister faced a “very serious constitutional crisis” if she refused, and the only answer was a general election.

The former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the public “have the full right to know” the legal advice and the debate in the Commons should “properly be informed” by it.

And Mr Gyimah, who until Friday was a science minister, said the government had a duty to “level with the public”.

But former solicitor general and Tory peer Lord Garnier told the programme it was a “matter of convention” that the advice was not disclosed, adding that it was government policy under attack and not the legal advice.

According to the Sunday Times, Mr Cox told ministers in a letter the only way out of the Northern Irish “backstop” agreement would be to sign a new trade deal, a process which could take years.

Brexit-supporting MPs say it could mean an open-ended commitment for the UK, forcing it to remain in the EU’s customs union while details of the deal are being worked out.

Media captionMichael Gove: “I’m supporting the prime minister”

The prime minister’s chief Brexit adviser, Olly Robbins, told MPs that the backstop was “not the future relationship that the UK and EU want to have with each other” but, without it, there would be no wider exit agreement.

“It is a necessity and a somewhat uncomfortable necessity for both sides,” he told the Commons Brexit committee, adding that the fallback arrangement did not assume “fluid trade” between Britain and the EU.

Boris Johnson, who resigned from government over the PM’s Brexit vision, described the arrangement in his weekly Daily Telegraph column as “a great steel trap that is about to clamp its jaws around our hind limbs and prevent our escape”.

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson said it was important for MPs to know exactly what they are voting for and the implications for Northern Ireland.

‘Fight of her life’

The Commons debate on Theresa May’s deal is due to get under way on Tuesday, with the prime minister facing the fight of her political life to get MPs to back the deal in a vote on 11 December.

Nigel Evans, one of those Tory MPs to say they will vote against the deal, told Sky News the prime minister was “in a hole of her own digging and she can either get out of that hole or call for the JCBs”.

He said he had supported Mrs May after her “awful” party conference speech and “appalling” election campaign last year but now “she needs to help herself a bit” by changing course.

Ministers insist they can persuade enough of them to change their mind because, they claim, the alternative is a no-deal Brexit or “no Brexit at all”.

Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today the agreement on the terms of the UK’s exit and its future relations with the EU was “never going to be perfect” but it was the “right deal for the country”.

He insisted the agreement delivered on the 2016 referendum result by bringing “a complete end” to EU free movement in the UK – although he conceded it was “very unlikely” MPs would see the details of what the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system might look like before they vote, as the plans were still be worked through.

Meanwhile, as campaigners continue to push for a further referendum, an e-petition urging the government to rule that option out, will be debated by MPs from 16:30 GMT.

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