United Kingdom government found in contempt of parliament

In a thumping defeat for the government, Theresa May's ministers will have to publish the Brexit legal advice.

A cross-party motion was filed by a group of MPs, including Labour, DUP, Lib Dems, SNP.

Starting Tuesday, the British Parliament will debate whether to accept the terms of the deal that was negotiated by May and representatives from the European Union.

MPs will decide whether to reject the terms of the UK's withdrawal and future relations with the European Union on Tuesday 11 December.

That would set up a potential constitutional showdown as Parliament and the government wrestle for control of Brexit's "Plan B".

They put forward a motion, which was backed by 311-293 in a vote, that found ministers in contempt of Parliament and ordered the immediate publication of the advice.

In another sign of the government's weakness, lawmakers also passed an amendment giving Parliament more say over the government's next steps if the divorce deal is rejected in a vote on December 11.

Responding to the result, the ruling Conservative Party's Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said the government meant to publish the advice on Wednesday.

Her spokesman said the cabinet had discussed the motion on Tuesday but maintained that ministers must be able to obtain candid legal advice "without fear that it will be immediately published".

Speaking in the Commons after the vote, Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom said: "We've tested the opinion of the House twice on this very serious subject".

Following a formal request, Commons Speaker John Bercow said there had been an "arguable case that a contempt has been committed" and ruled MPs should debate the issue on Tuesday, right before the start of five days of debate on the Brexit deal.

Few in the House of Commons, the lower house, seemed to have been won over on Monday.

But her chances of winning majority backing for the deal look slim.

Theresa May said the United Kingdom would enjoy a better future outside the European Union.

If she loses, May could call for a second vote on the deal.

26 Conservative MPs ultimately voted for Grieve's amendment, further evidence on ongoing discontent in Tory ranks over Brexit.

MPs' decisions over the next week would "set the course our country takes for decades to come", she said.

What did the PM say?

She said her agreement respected the outcome of the 2016 referendum while protecting vital trading relations with the European Union and insisted the British public wanted closure on the issue. Clearly, Macron understood what was in the agreement that May signed.

She also said Parliament would be consulted on the government's negotiating mandate as it embarks on talks on the UK's future relationship with the EU. Since most lawmakers oppose a no-deal Brexit, they could essentially take that option off the table. Her former Brexit minister David Davis said: "This is not Brexit".

Soft-liners are against the deal because they believe that it won't secure the closest possible British-EU political and economic ties.

Mrs May told them: "I promise you today this is the very best deal for the British people, I ask you to back it in the best interests of our constituents and our country".

  • Jon Douglas