November 13, 2018 / 3:52 PM / a year ago

UK government promises Brexit legal analysis, seeking to appease party rebels

LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers will have access to legal analysis of any EU withdrawal agreement and the chance to quiz the government’s top legal advisor before being asked to vote to approve the deal, senior minister David Lidington said on Tuesday.

A stall sells Union flags in Westminster, London, Britain, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

The opposition Labour Party is seeking to use parliamentary procedure to force the government to publish its legal advice on leaving the European Union, including on how the deal will handle the sensitive issue of the Irish border.

Lidington’s promise was aimed at quelling unrest within Prime Minister Theresa May’s party that could further undermine her authority in parliament as Brexit negotiations enter the crucial final phase.

“Members should have access not only to an economic and political analysis of what we are being asked to approve or disapprove but also to detailed legal analysis of the meaning and the implications of the agreement,” Lidington told parliament.

He also said that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who is responsible for preparing the legal advice, would be willing to make a statement to parliament and take questions.

He said the government would provide a “full reasoned position statement” but that publishing its legal advice would set a dangerous precedent for future government decisions.

“There is a very strong, long-lasting constitutional convention which has been followed by governments of all political parties that the opinions of the law officers remain confidential,” he said.

“If this convention were to be set aside, there would be an adverse impact on the quality of discussions within government and of government’s collective decision making ... future advice would be likely to be less frank and candid than at present.”

A group of eurosceptics within May’s party also want to see the official legal advice, but they shelved plans to vote against the government in what would have been a damaging show of strength against their leader.

The episode underlined May’s precarious position in parliament ahead of a vote on any final deal. The small Northern Irish Party which props up her government also said they planned to vote with Labour to force the publication of the advice.

Whilst Labour’s attempt passed unopposed by the government, it is unclear exactly what ministers will be compelled to publish as a result.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, a lawmaker on Labour’s legal team, said the government’s concession did not go far enough and amounted to providing an “edited highlights” of the legal advice.

“We need to see the full consideration of the different arguments provided by the Attorney General and the House should be able to consider every sentence and every nuance,” he said.

Reporting by William James, Elizabeth Piper and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Stephen Addison

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