Sir Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration committee, has said that the government has reached tipping point over Brexit, and what it does next will “determine its future”.
Joining Julia Hartley-Brewer on the talkRADIO breakfast show, Sir Bernard said it was a “very serious thing” for the government to withhold the legal text relating to the Brexit deal, given that MPs had voted to see it.
On Monday, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox answered questions in the House of Commons, and confirmed that the Irish backstop would continue "unless and until it is superseded" by a subsequent agreement.
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“The Attorney General was incredibly candid, if a little blustery yesterday, in front of the House of Commons - he was absolutely clear that the backstop could carry on indefinitely,” said Sir Bernard.
Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab told Hartley-Brewer yesterday that he had seen the legal text himself, and “came to the same conclusion”.
“Didn’t we already know that?” asked Hartley-Brewer.
“Yes, we knew that, but he was much more candid than the government ministers have been. There is no place for the government to hide now,” said Sir Bernard.
Attorney Generel Geoffrey Cox. Image: Getty
Historically, ministers found to be in contempt of parliament could be suspended or even imprisoned, but Sir Bernard called that notion “ridiculous”.
Hartley-Brewer argued that “if we don’t allow the government to get secret legal advice, they won’t get any legal advice at all,” but Sir Bernard that that Brexit was being treated as an “exceptional” matter.
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“It’s not like you’re being prosecuted for some crime and you don’t want the court to know where your mother was,” he said.
“I’m afraid the government is going to have to hand it over. The government is going to lose the vote.
“In theory, the House of Commons could vote to suspend certain ministers, I’m not going to vote for that - it’s getting ridiculous.”
He refused to speculate on Theresa May’s future, but said that what happens next will be a crucial time for the government.
“If the government loses by one vote, it’s very serious because the government’s flagship policy has been shot down,” he said.
“The DUP is saying they will support the opposition in a vote of confidence against the government…
“The big problem is the way the negotiations have been conducted over the past two and a half years, and we’re told the government is much less prepared for a WTO Brexit than it should be.
“This puts the government in a very weak negotiating position with the EU. How it deals with this will determine the future of the government.”