Thursday, November 29, 2018

Government legal advice

There are suggestions from a number of people who really ought to know better that the government should not just provide a balanced briefing for MPs on the legal advice they have received, and not just publish a summary of the advice as they have agreed to do, but publish the advice in full.

This would be an act of insanity.

The line from CCC this morning reads

"Legal advice

We’ve already committed to providing Parliament with a full, reasoned position statement. There is a longstanding convention, followed by successive governments, that legal advice to the government remain confidential. This enables government to receive frank and full legal advice in confidence, just as everyone else can."

I think that is entirely reasonable. The point about full legal advice is that it includes an assessment of the weaknesses as well as strengths of your own position.

Providing that sort of detail to the other side in a negotiation (or dispute or court case) by publishing it is so utterly foolish that I struggle to find adequate words to describe how irresponsible it is to push for the British government to do such a thing.
There can indeed be circumstances when it is appropriate as part of an after-the-event review and scrutiny process, in order to learn lessons for the future from a past event, to publish retrospectively the full legal advice in relation to a dispute, case or negotiation which has finished.

That is not the position in respect of the EU deal.

Granted, there is a proposed withdrawal agreement on the table which the EU currently say they would be unwilling to re-open negotiations about. But that is not the end of the story - the "Political declaration" is all about the further negotiations towards a trade deal.

And I am sure that everyone who is reading this will know the saying which applies to all EU negotiations - "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

Those who are pushing for the government to publish in full the legal advice it has received about the EU negotiations and deals either have not thought this through or do not care if they undermine Britain's negotiating position.

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