Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader in Westminster, said a Government decision not to publish the full legal advice it has received on the draft deal raised questions over its contents. MPs are pushing to see the full advice ahead of a crucial House of Commons vote on the withdrawal agreement on December 11 but Downing Street has committed to provide only a summary. Reports suggest the advice provided by attorney general Geoffrey Cox includes a blunt assessment of the terms and says the European Union will effectively have the final say over when the UK is allowed to exit the backstop arrangement.
Brexiteers have insisted Britain must be allowed to quit the backstop when it says so to avoid the prospect of being trapped in the EU’s customs union indefinitely.
Speaking during an urgent question on the publication of the legal advice today, Mr Dodds said Solicitor General Robert Buckland had repeated offers which were not accepted by the Commons.
He added: “So why doesn’t the Solicitor General listen and the Government start listening?
“This has been the problem all along. What is it they have to hide?”
But Mr Buckland insisted the Government was not hiding anything.
He said: “This is not an incidence where the Government seeks to delay or hide – this is all about providing information at the right time ahead of the important debate I know he’ll be playing an important part in.”
Demands by the DUP for the full legal advice were echoed by Labour, with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer accusing the Government of showing “contempt” for the Commons.
He said it was “wholly unacceptable” that Downing Street had offered only a summary despite a vote by MPs which stated the full advice should be released.
Mr Buckland hit back by saying Sir Keir’s request was “wholly premature”, adding MPs will have the chance to put questions to the attorney general on the legal advice on Monday.
The Irish border backstop was one of the major sticking points in the lengthy Brexit negotiations and the issue is still a huge point of contention for the DUP and Brexiteers pushing for a clean break with Brussels.
Under Mrs May’s draft deal, the backstop would kick in if the UK and EU are unable to reach an agreement on how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic by the time the transition period – currently scheduled to run until December 31, 2020 – comes to an end.
If this happens, the terms would see the whole of the UK remain in the EU’s customs union.
But the arrangement would also see Northern Ireland stay more closely aligned with the bloc’s rules – something the DUP believes would effectively create a border down the Irish Sea and threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Under the Prime Minister’s draft deal, the UK would be able to notify Brussels it wanted to quit the backstop before a panel made up of representatives from both sides would need to come to a joint decision on whether the arrangement is no longer necessary.