Mr Cox told the Commons the circumstances for prorogation were a matter for the prime minister and the Queen, before also insisting he believes Brexit must take place on October 31, as well as confirming his view that Article 24 of the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) could not be invoked unilaterally. MPs challenged Mr Cox over the constitutional impact of proroguing Parliament, given his role as the Government’s chief legal adviser and support for Boris Johnson as the next Tory leader. Mr Johnson last week said he neither wanted nor expected to prorogue Parliament – but has kept the option on the table.
SNP MP David Linden (Glasgow East) said: “If, as appears to be the case, Mr Johnson does become the next prime minister – of which the Attorney General is a supporter – will he support Mr Johnson’s view of refusing to rule out proroguing Parliament for a no deal Brexit, which would surely be an act of constitutional vandalism? “Does he agree with that?”
Mr Cox replied: “That is a question which will be reviewed at the time, and the circumstances of any application for prorogation are a matter not for me but for the prime minister and Her Majesty.”
Gavin Newlands, SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, said: “The Institute for Government has noted that, if Parliament was prorogued to facilitate no deal, it’d not be possible to pass any Bills or remaining secondary legislation needed to prepare the UK statute book for such an outcome.
“Would he therefore agree that leaving the EU with no deal with no functioning Parliament would lead to a country in a legislative black hole at a time when people across the country would be looking to the Government for emergency actions?”
Mr Cox replied: “This House has been given the opportunity of leaving the European Union with a deal on three separate occasions.
“I don’t recall the SNP ever voting for one of them.
“The answer is quite simple – we can still pass a withdrawal agreement, we can still leave the European Union in an orderly way.
“But what is now quite clear is the imperative to leave the European Union is overriding.
“We must leave – we must leave, in my view, this year, and on October 31.”
Earlier, SNP MP Stuart McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) asked about the so-called GATT 24 mechanism, which Mr Johnson has said could be used to avoid tariffs in the event of a no-deal scenario.
Mr McDonald asked: “Will he confirm today that it is the Government’s position after a no-deal Brexit Article 24 of GATT cannot be unilaterally invoked to ensure a standstill in current trading arrangements and the EU cannot and will not be compelled to trade on that basis?”
Mr Cox replied: “Yes.”
SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart, speaking during business questions, later asked: “Can we have a debate about Brexit – you know that thing we were given all that extra time to actually try and resolve?
“Maybe we should try and debate it occasionally.”
Commons leader Mel Stride replied: “He has called for further debates on Brexit.
“I think there are many in this House that feel we’ve probably had more than enough debates on Brexit, but I can assure him it’s inconceivable that there will not be many more debates on Brexit in the weeks and months to come.”