By Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline
Britain could be stuck in the Irish backstop forever if trade talks with the EU break down, the Prime Minister was warned in secret legal advice.
The advice drawn up for the Cabinet was finally published today after MPs voted to find the Government in contempt of Parliament for the first time yesterday – one of three defeats last night in the worst day in the Commons for a PM in 40 years.
Both Leave and Remain MPs demanded the secret advice amid suspicion Attorney General Geoffrey Cox gave a bleaker assessment of how the deal works privately to Cabinet than he revealed publicly on Monday.
The six new pages of advice paint a much starker and unspun outline of the legal risks of the backstop but is not materially different to what Mr Cox had said earlier.
Mr Cox’s advice said the backstop is ‘intended to subsist even when negotiations have broken down’ – meaning it has been designed to last forever if talks fail.
DUP leader Nigel Dodds said the advice was ‘devastating’ and a clear border down the Irish Sea – something he said Mrs May had promised would never happen. He branded the deal ‘totally unacceptable and economically mad’.
After the paper was published, the Prime Minister was accused of ‘misleading’ the Commons as she returned to the Despatch Box for PMQs.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the politically spun version of the advice on Monday has ‘concealed the facts’ – prompting a furious row with the Speaker as MPs are not allowed to accuse each other of lying.
Mrs May insisted there was nothing new in the secret letter because both she and Mr Cox had openly said the backstop was ‘indefinite’ without a final trade deal.
Earlier, MPs were warned by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom they would live to ‘regret’ forcing the Government to publish the letter.
The latest blow to Mrs May comes after yesterday’s historic triple defeat in the Commons lobbies.
In the worst defeat, 26 Tory rebels sided with Labour to push through an amendment that would let MPs step in if her deal is defeated next Tuesday.
The five-day Brexit deal debate will continue this afternoon after it adjourned at just after 1am this morning.
Britain could be stuck in the Irish backstop forever if trade talks with the EU break down, the Prime Minister (pictured in Downing Street today) was warned in secret legal advice
The document, drawn up by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (pictured in the Commons yesterday) for senior ministers, said the measure is ‘intended to subsist even when
negotiations have broken down’.
Theresa May was back at the Despatch Box today (pictured) for PMQs today despite the bruising day in Parliament yesterday
In his letter, Mr Cox said ‘despite statements in the Protocol it is not intended to be permanent and the clear intention of the parties that it should be replaced by alternative, permanent arrangements, in international law the protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place’.