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UK government faces parliamentary showdown over contempt charge

In a statement to the Commons late on Monday evening, Speaker John Bercow said there was an “arguable case” that a contempt of Parliament had been committed by the government after it refused to reveal the full extent of counsel it had been given on May’s EU withdrawal plan.

His decision means parliamentarians will vote on Tuesday whether or not to refer the case to the cross-party Commons Standards Committee.

If a majority vote in favor of passing the issue up to the committee, it will then be tasked with determining whether a contempt took place and, if deemed necessary, recommending a punishment.

Any sanction suggested would need to be approved by the Commons before being enforced.

Bercow’s ruling came just hours after a multi-party alliance headed by the main opposition Labour Party wrote to the speaker alleging the government’s actions on Monday violated the result of a binding parliamentary vote carried out last month.

The November 13 vote demanded ministers publish all of the advice they received on the proposed EU withdrawal agreement.

The appeal to Bercow on Monday, announced by Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, was backed by five other parties, including the ruling Conservative Party’s government partners, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

“It is apparent to us – and we believe the overwhelming majority of the House [of Commons] – that the information released today does not constitute the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet,” a letter jointly signed by representatives from each of the six parties said.

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