Our chief political commentator explains the significance of tonight’s votes in the House of Commons
The Independent Voices
Theresa May lost three votes tonight, which are only the third, fourth and fifth times she has been defeated since the election stripped her of her majority. In a way, it is a remarkable achievement to have avoided more defeats, but now we are entering what has long been promised – those uncharted constitutional waters.
Never before has a government been held to be “in contempt” of parliament. So it is significant that MPs voted to do just that, twice. First, they voted against the government’s attempt to divert the question of whether or not it was in contempt to a parliamentary committee. This rather obvious device to try to delay censure was lost by just four votes.
Then the House of Commons voted on the question itself, and by a margin of 18 votes decided that the government was “in contempt” by refusing to publish its legal advice on the Brexit deal.
Sir Keir Starmer says bringing contempt motion over government’s legal advice on Brexit wasn’t done ‘lightly’
Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House, the minister in charge of getting the government’s business through the Commons, immediately surrendered and said the legal advice would be published tomorrow. That is what the government should have done in the first place, if it wanted to avoid the embarrassment of being defeated, but ministers, especially Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, and senior civil servants feel strongly about the principle of legal advice being confidential.