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  • Theresa May has been held in contempt of parliament over Brexit deal.

    Theresa May has been held in contempt of parliament over Brexit deal. | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 December 2018

This will be the first time in history a British prime minister has been held in contempt of U.K.'s Parliament.

British Parliament MPs have voted 311 to 293 to find May's government in contempt over its failure to publish full Brexit legal advice from her attorney general. This represents a severe blow to Theresa May and leaves her government vulnerable to defeat on Brexit, and a possible 'no confidence' vote on May herself.

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This now constitutes a government crisis, which emerged as part of Theresa May's Brexit deal with the European Union. Her government had provided Parliament with a summary of legal opinion on the deal when they had asked for the complete report.

Opposition parties and the small Northern Irish party that props up May's minority government are furious that it only provided an outline of the legal basis for its Brexit deal after parliament voted to be given the full advice.

Following the vote, May criticized the Labour party for not paying heed to the citizen's demands who voted to leave the EU and she wants a greater public consultation. She also criticized Labour saying that the opposition party just wants to force a general election. 

However, according to her, the parliament will have a greater say and power in the next stage of negotiation.  She said there will be a “greater and more formal role for parliament.”

"We should not let the search for a perfect Brexit prevent a good Brexit that delivers for the British people," commented May. She also said that she understands the demand for a second referendum but does not understand what it will achieve rather than bringing more divisive arguments forward. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn replying to May's speech said, “Economic assessments ... indicate that this is actually a bad deal.” This deal will damage the country according to Corbyn. 

He also said that the only achievement of May was to unite various conflicting fractions against her deal.  Corbyn says May’s deal, “far from taking back control, hands control to somebody else”. He added: “This government is not taking back control, it is losing control.”

Corbyn said the country is “over a barrel”, accusing the government of a “terrible failure of negotiation” adding that the government would be sent back to Brussels for new negotiations. 

According to him, this was “not the deal the country was promised and parliament cannot and, I believe will not accept it”. He also warned that voting for the deal would damage the economy, make people poorer and represent a “leap in the dark”.

The legal opinion, which started the whole conflict Tuesday is supposed to explain that the agreement with the EU implies that the EU is the only one to decide when the transitory trade arrangement would end after Brexit. In other words, the U.K. would be "trapped" indefinitely under EU trade rules, which would make it even more difficult for May to win the vote on the agreement that will take place on the Dec. 11 in Parliament

This "submission" to Europe is totally unacceptable to a large part of her own conservative party.

The leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom announced that the government is backing down, and will publish the Attorney General’s final Brexit legal advice Wednesday.

"Today's finding of contempt is a badge of shame for this government. It is of huge constitutional and political significance," Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour Party's Brexitspokesman, said after the vote. "Never before has the House of Commons found ministers in contempt of parliament."

According to some analysts, this is the first time in history that a government has ever been held in contempt:

Members of Parliament voted for an amendment that will ensure that they can vote in favor of a “plan B” option in January if Theresa May’s deal gets voted down. It was passed by 321 votes to 299 - a majority of 22. "Plan B" means there cannot be "no deal" as the parliament will have the power to amend any motion Theresa May puts forward. 

If lawmakers do not back her deal, May says, they could open the door either to Britain falling out of the EU without measures to soften the transition or to the possibility that Brexit does not happen.

Many lawmakers - from May's own Conservatives as well as from the opposition parties - have spoken out against the deal that the odds look stacked against it winning the Dec. 11 vote.

 

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