Behind the Headlines

"No need for Theresa May to publish leave advice says Health Secretary". Really?

Written on 11/09/2018


What’s the story?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has argued that there is ‘no need’ to publish advice from the Attorney General on the temporary customs union envisaged in a Brexit deal and that it would not be “normal’’ to do so, despite this issue being key to assessing any deal. Read more in The Mirror.

How reliable is it?

Reliable, but causing shock. The government is indeed resisting pressure to publish the legal advice it receives from the Attorney General on this issue. Within weeks, MPs may be voting on the potential Withdrawal Agreement, and they will require this legal advice to make an informed decision.

What’s the background?

  • At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox summarised his legal advice on the proposed temporary customs union, and whether it could be unilaterally ended. Evidence
  • Remaining in the customs union, temporarily or otherwise, is an important issue if we go ahead with Brexit, for the economy and for the Irish border issue. Evidence
  • The ‘Humble Address’ procedure is an ancient convention in the UK Parliament and MPs can use it to order HM Government to produce papers on issues of importance. Evidence
  • This procedure was recently used to force the Government to publish their Brexit impact assessment papers, in spite of its reluctance to reveal the alarming economic consequences of Brexit. Evidence
  • Ironically, David Davis (who, as minister, had opposed the publication of the impact assessments) argued this week on BBC Radio 4 that MPs need to see "complete legal advice, not a summary” on the Brexit deal. Evidence
  • Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer called for legal advice to be presented to the Parliament to ‘ensure that the public are aware of what the cabinet has signed up to, and its potential implications for the future’. Evidence
  • The pressure to publish this legal advice has also come from within Theresa May’s Cabinet, notably from Leave-supporting Environment Secretary, Michael Gove. Evidence
    Photo courtesy Ilovetheeu from Wikimedia Commons
    This Behind the Headlines Briefing was first published on the DoorstepEU app: