LONDON, Dec 5 – MPs are voting on whether to find ministers in contempt of Parliament over their decision not to release the full legal advice on the Brexit deal.
Opposition parties say by limiting the information released, ministers ignored a binding Commons vote demanding they provided the full advice.
A government attempt to refer the issue to the Commons Privileges Committee was earlier rejected by 311 to 307 votes.
It comes as Theresa May prepares to sell her Brexit deal to MPs.
MPs will vote whether to accept or reject the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on Tuesday 11 December.
It has to be backed by a majority of MPs if it is to come into force.
Meanwhile, the BBC has said it has not been able to reach agreement with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on the format for a proposed televised debate on Brexit next Sunday.
The broadcaster said it was “disappointed” that its “fair and appropriate” proposals for a head-to-head debate between the two leaders followed by a panel discussion including a range of voices and views on Brexit had not been accepted.
The government’s chief legal adviser, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox,published an overview of his legal advice on Monday.
Senior MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, the Democratic Unionist Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party all signed a motion demanding immediate publication of the full and final advice.
Putting the motion to Parliament on Tuesday, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, said what Mr Cox had told the Commons was “not legal advice” but “simply described the deal”.
He added: “The government is wilfully refusing to comply with a binding order of this House and that is contempt.”
Commons Speaker John Bercow said late on Monday there was an “arguable case” that a contempt of Parliament had been committed.
However, the government then tabled an amendment to have the issue referred to MPs on the Privileges Committee to investigate whether its response fulfils all its obligations, taking into account any relevant past cases.
Putting the amendment to the House on Tuesday in response to Sir Keir, the leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom warned MPs to “exercise caution in this matter”.
“The use of this [contempt] motion has happened very rarely in the history of Parliament,” she added.
“No honourable member could say in all honesty that the attorney general has done anything other than treat this House with the greatest of respect, there can be no question that he or the government has acted in a manner which is contemptuous of this House.”
BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said any defeat over the legal advice would be likely to come as “an unwelcome distraction rather than a disaster” for the prime minister.
“While ultimately a parliamentary committee could decide to reprimand or suspend ministers, it’s highly likely no sanction would be applied before next week’s crucial vote on the Brexit deal,” he said.
MPs seeking to take control of Brexit
Before the main debate on the Brexit deal gets under way, MPs will talk about the procedures involved.
Most of this will be uncontroversial stuff but ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve has put down a significant amendment that, if passed, could potentially tilt the balance of power between government and Parliament.