NEWS
10/09/2019 7:46 AM IST

MPs Vote To Force Britain's Ministers To Publish Secret No-Deal Brexit Papers

Boris Johnson defeated in the Commons again as MPs back moves to force publication of 'Operation Yellowhammer' documents and internal communications about the suspension of parliament.

MPs have voted to force the government to publish secret papers which they think will reveal the chaotic impact of a no-deal Brexit.

Ministers will now have to publish all ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ no-deal preparation documents seen by the cabinet or a cabinet committee since July 23 by 11pm on Wednesday. 

A previous leak of Yellowhammer documents to the Sunday Times suggested Britain will face shortages of fuel, food and medicine if it leaves the EU without a deal on October 31.

MPs backed the bid to get the papers published by 311 votes to 302 – a majority of nine – in yet another Commons defeat for Boris Johnson.

In a separate move, MPs accepted without a vote a motion by Jeremy Corbyn requiring the government to respect the rule of law on a no-deal Brexit - just hours after a new bill on the issue went on the statute book.

Former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve, who was sacked from the party last week for rebelling to back anti-no-deal legislation, said he brought forward his own emergency motion because the prime minister was avoiding scrutiny in the run up to the Brexit deadline by suspending parliament through prorogation until October 14. 

His motion, which uses an archaic “humble address” to the Queen, also compels the government to publish all communications relating to prorogation, including WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Facebook, email, text and iMessages sent to, from or between Johnson’s team of top Downing Street advisers.

Grieve said he was pushing for this information as officials suggested to him “they believed the handling of this matter smacked of scandal”. 

But attorney general Geoffrey Cox warned that the motion may not be enforceable, questioning whether the government has the legal right to ask employees to “give up private email accounts and personal mobiles”.

EMPICS Entertainment
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve is confronted by an anti-Brexit protester

Grieve said: “The House is about to be prorogued for five weeks, two weeks after we return is the anticipated date on which we are going to leave the European Union.

“There is much which is left undebated and, in particular, we are not going to have an opportunity to ask necessary questions of the government both in relation to its own prepared documents under Yellowhammer, which it has prepared for its own use in relation to the risks of a no deal.

“And, in addition to that, we are not going to have the opportunity to ask what I think are the necessary and unfortunately searching questions about the government’s motives in proroguing this House and the potential difference between what they have said in public in this matter and what the evidence suggests is the reality.”

Earlier, Commons speaker John Bercow, who announced his intention to quit on Monday, defended his decision to allow the motion to be debated and voted on under the Commons standing order 24 rule which allows emergency debates.

Bercow has faced criticism for months for bending parliamentary rules, which has allowed opposition and rebel MPs greater opportunity to direct the government and shape the Brexit debate.

And after Tory whip Graham Stuart interrupted him to complain, the Speaker launched a blistering attack.

“Sometimes you get these pop-up characters who think they understand these matters on the basis of minimal familiarity with the said standing orders and presume to say that the rules have been broken,” Bercow said.

“They are entitled to their opinions, but they suffer from the notable disadvantage of being completely wrong. I know what the rules are and what they allow and this is absolutely in keeping with the standing orders.

“If there are people who don’t like the subject matter and would prefer it not to be aired and judge that it is inconvenient, they are perfectly entitled to their view, but it has got nothing to do with procedural propriety. Don’t tell me, young man, from a sedentary position what I can and cannot say.

“If you are not interested, leave the chamber. I am not remotely interested in your pettifogging objection chuntered inelegantly from a sedentary position. The position is as I have described it and quite frankly, young man, you can like it or lump it.”

Michael Gove, the cabinet minister in charge of planning for no-deal Brexit, said: “This is a fishing expedition where every single communication to do with prorogation is being sought and it takes a coach and horses through our data protection legislation.“

He added: “Their desire to rifle through private correspondences of advisers is to set aside legal precedent and the rights of citizens.” 

On Operation Yellowhammer, Gove said: “The government is absolutely committed to sharing with this House as much as we can.”

Hours later, Corybn’s own motion on following the rule of law was passed without a vote.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab had told MPs: “This government will always respect the rule of law. That’s been our clear position consistently and frankly it is outrageous that it is even in doubt.”