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House of Commons

As it happened: Angry exchanges in Commons as Attorney General declares 'parliament is dead'

“The time is coming when even these turkeys won’t be able to prevent Christmas,” Attorney General geoffrey Cox told MPs.

LAST UPDATE | 25 Sep 2019

BORIS JOHNSON IS having a bad week.

Just 24 hours after the Supreme Court ruled that his prorogation was “unlawful, void and had no effect”, he’s now had to cut his trip to the UN summit in New York short to attend a verbal bashing from his revived parliament this afternoon.

Amidst calls for him to resign from the opposition, Johnson’s team is also in the firing line: Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg is coming under criticism for not representing parliament properly at Cabinet; attorney general Geoffrey Cox’s advice to Johnson is also under scrutiny; and the Prime Minister’s main adviser Dominic Cummings is also being told to step aside, as prorogation is understood to be his idea.

Johnson will speak later but the afternoon featured a number of angry exchanges involving the aforementioned Cox in the House of Commons

The House of Commons is resuming in the next few minutes… here’s what’s on the agenda.

Labour’s urgent questions are worth watching out for…

The first is on Geoffrey Cox’s advice to Boris Johnson on whether a five-week prorogation was legal, and the second on asking about thousands of sponsorship grants paid to a US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri by Boris Johnson when he was London mayor, in what’s a potential conflict of interest scandal. 

The LibDem leader Jo Swinson has told reporters that “we cannot wait until 19 October” to see if Johnson will obey the Hilary Benn bill and request a Brexit extension. 

That gives us a hint as to what MPs could use this extra time in parliament for…

Meanwhile, there’s been a freeze put on PSNI officers’ holiday requests.

Look who’s back.

Bercow Parliament TV Parliament TV

House Speaker John Bercow says that “Colleagues, welcome back to our place of work.”

He thanks the parliamentary staff for making last-minute preparations to be in work today.

He says that based on the Supreme Court judgement, the record will be corrected to say that parliament was adjourned on 9 September, instead of prorogued.

Joanna Cherry QC, asks will the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox clarify his advice to Johnson on prorogation. 

“The government’s legal view was set out and argued in the Supreme Court,” he answers.

“I took a close interest in the case,” he says, prompting an eruption of laughter from MPs.

“If everytime I lost a case I would have to resign I would never had a practice… At all times, the government acted in good faith, and in the belief that it’s actions were lawful.

“We were disappointed that the Supreme Court took a different view, and we respect the decision of the court. In legal terms the matter is settled.

“I will consider in the coming days whether there is a public interest in the greater disclosure of the advice to the government on this issue… the matter is under consideration.”

JCherry Sky News Sky News

Joanna Cherry replies to say that she also “took a close interest in the case”.

(She took the legal action in the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh, which was appealed to the Supreme Court along with the London judgement.)

She quotes that a document leaked to Sky News showed that his legal advice was that the five-week suspension of parliament was lawful. She’s asking for the full advice given. 

She says that there’s a belief that Cox is being given as a “fall guy” and “scapegoat” for government, and the actions of the Prime Minister and his adviser. 

Cox says that as “tempting” an offer as has been made by Cherry to avoid being that scapegoat, he repeats that he is not allowed to disclose the advice he gave, but adds: “The matter is under consideration”.

The going gets tougher for Boris Johnson.

grieve Parliament TV Parliament TV

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve says that he’s concerned with the propriety of the government’s legal advice. 

Cox replies that it’s inappropriate for him to respond to government leaks.

Cox says that if there had been an attempt to prorogue parliament from 1 September until 31 October, then he would not have remained in Cabinet. 

Attorney General Cox says he doesn’t believe that the five-week prorogation was a constitutional coup. “This was a judgement of the Supreme Court, of the kind that was clear, and definitive.”

“The Supreme Court has made new law, let’s be clear,” Cox tells the House of Commons. 

“And that’s a judgement that the Supreme Court is perfectly entitled to make.

On Cox’s “constitutional coup” comments, here’s the background to that:

Cox says that the government will “abide by its ruling”, in relation to the Supreme Court.

“A prorogation of any length must be reasonably justified,” Cox says.

“I have to say that what that means is the court will be obliged to assess whether a political controversy is suitably heated to warrant” delaying the suspension of parliament, Cox tells the House of Commons.

“The judges are not immune to criticism. There is nothing wrong at all… in criticising a court judgement. But what is wrong is to impute improper motives.”

Cox Geoffrey Cox. Parliament tv Parliament tv

“With the judgement we can be robustly critical, with the motives we cannot.”

“There will be no prorogation that doesn’t comply with the terms of the ruling of the Supreme Court,” Geoffrey Cox says.

Hmmm. Johnson hasn’t ruled out proroguing parliament again, which he could do if he gives a more robust reasoning – the Supreme Court ruling said that “no justification” had been given for proroguing parliament for five weeks rather than a few days.

All eyes on the mother of all parliaments.

“Let me make plain I have never denied any member of the Cabinet for advice,” Cos says in response to a question from a former Tory colleague Anna Soubry. 

Stewart Parliament TV Parliament TV

Rory Stewart says that the decision to prorogue was a Tory one. 

“I would agree with you that parliament would have to decide,” what Brexit we get, Cox responds, “but this parliament has declined three times to pass a Withdrawal Act”.

He then gives this explosive statement:

This parliament is a dead parliament – it has no moral right to sit on these green benches… This parliament is a disgrace. Since I am asked, let me tell them the truth: they could vote no confidence at any time, but they’re too cowardly.”

“This parliament should have the courage to face the electorate but it won’t because so many of them are all about preventing us leaving the EU. But the time is coming when even these turkeys won’t be able to prevent Christmas.”

The UK parliament is back, so it’s time to marvel at how brilliant the Commons’ press and social media team is:

John Bercow asks Geoffrey Cox to avoid “perambulating” and to face MPs as he speaks “acknowledging that the House wants to hear his every word”.

Cox says that Bercow might have a “glorious, or more glorious career” in teaching the front bench how to speak after he retires from his role as House Speaker.

Cox is then accused of “barrister bluster” by Labour MP Barry Sherman. That’s a fun term. 

“I came into the Chamber today thinking I felt sorry for the Attorney General… But every word he has uttered, [he has] no shame today, no shame at all.”

A very long question was asked on whether the government would comply with law, considering a law was passed compelling the government to request an extension to the Brexit deadline if they don’t strike up a deal.

“Yes,” is all Cox replies with.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is awake.

If only this theory answered what was going on. 

Cox is asked whether he’ll consider introducing a written constitution – and says that’s what he wants.

“I have a degree of sympathy for what she says,” Cox replies. “I do think that as we depart the EU, there is ground for thinking about our constitutional arrangements and how they should be ordered. 

“And in doing so, I think a widespread public consultation of the kind she is describing is essential. Because any new constitutional arrangements would have to [receive] widespread public support and assent. No doubt over the coming months and years, this will be a subject of important concern.”

I missed this, but here it is:

Remember, Bercow is going to step down on 31 October, the last day of the UK’s membership of the EU. It’s also Halloween, of course. 

I’m off for lunch, so I’ll leave you with my colleague Sean Murray, and this line Geoffrey Cox just said in the House of Commons: 

“This parliament is as dead as dead can be.”

Cox Parliament Parliament

Thanks Gráinne.

We’re at that stage of a parliamentary back and forth where Sky News has decided it’s not worth sticking with it so they have their political reports filling in the gaps.

In a more surprising pronouncement from Cox, he’s suggested that judicial appointments may have to be approved by MPs in the future as courts have become more political.

Maybe Cox doesn’t want MPs to decide judicial appointments after all.

Former Conservative minister Amber Rudd up now and she’s not happy with the “parliament is dead” comment.

“Many of us long to leave the EU, but are frustrated by the fact we’ve not been able to find a consensus among the factions,” she says.

Cox says he wouldn’t have made the comment unless he was forced to.

“I do so advisedly,” he says. “Nobody works harder than I did for compromise.”

Cue more angry scenes.


“More humility and less levity” would have been better says Liberal Democrat Philip Lee.

Geoffrey Cox isn’t having any of it.

He thinks Philip Lee – a former Conservative – should be on his knees apologising to constituents for his “betrayal”. 

philip lee

It’s gotten awful noisy – well noisier than usual all of a sudden – and Cox wants to hear the next question again. 

Speaker Bercow says there was a “very unattractive rant fest” among politicians. 

“It’s a very undesirable state of affairs,” he says. 

bercow 1

Labour’s Clive Efford wants to know when Cox was first aware that the advice given to the Queen was not true.

Cox says that’s a “when did you stop beating your wife question”. 

He refuses the suggestion that the advice to the Queen was “knowingly misleading”. 

cox 1

Independent MP for north Down Lady Hermon asks if it occurred to Cox that he might lose this court case. 

Cox says any barrister who doesn’t consider they might lose is a “nit”. Okay, so. 

Labour MP Angela Eagle thinks that Cox’s comments on if the government will adhere to the law passed by the House preventing the UK leaving without a deal on 31 October.

She thinks “they’re looking for a way to wriggle out of it”. 

Strong from Labour’s Geraint Davies, saying that Cox’s comments amount to a move towards fascism.

He accuses the Attorney General of making fun of the Supreme Court.

Cox, unsurprisingly, disagrees.

As an aside, the opposition benches on the right are quite full, and the government ones less so.

house of commons

Who had “inflamed, political tripe”? Cox just said that to his critics.

I’d put my pennies on “contrived, contemptuous nonsense”. 

Where’s Boris? 

We’re hearing that Jacob Rees-Mogg will be facing questions at some stage, potentially before Johnson himself.

Senior Johnson ally Michael Gove went to bat for the prime minister earlier on LBC radio.

He said that Johnson is “a born winner” and the “Pep Guardiola of British politics”. 

People having fun with that on Twitter today.

One of the government frontbenchers – not sure who – just had a sneezing fit.

Probably the only new thing that’s happened in the past few minutes.

Oh wait… a point of order.

This is worth mentioning. It’s about Cox’s “joke” about beating a wife.

“If I’ve given offence, I certainly didn’t mean to,” he says. “It’s an old saying at the Bar.”

He’s referring to the Bar in the legal sense, not the pub sense. 

Bercow says it’s a matter of extreme sensitivity, and that MPs have to be careful about what they say. 

bercow 2

Before Cox finished, he hinted that the government will try to call another election.

A motion will be “coming before the house shortly”, he said.

We’re now onto questions about things that aren’t Brexit, so let’s sum all that up. No Boris Johnson in the House yet. That’ll come later.

We had Attorney General Geoffrey Cox answer questions at length.

He proclaimed that “parliament is dead” and doesn’t have the “moral right to sit”. 

Cox also went on the attack against the opposition for refusing to have an election (the opposition is saying it won’t have an election unless a no-deal Brexit is ruled out).

“Given the opportunity, since I am asked, let me tell them the truth: they could vote no confidence at any time, but they are too cowardly,” he said. “They could agree to a motion to allow this house to dissolve but they are too cowardly.”

brexit House of Commons House of Commons

One of the questions just put to the Culture Minister concerned a story that hit the headlines over the weekend concerning Boris Johnson.

It alleges that a friend of Johnson’s had a £100k grant given to a company she runs.

Minister Matt Warman says his department is reviewing if it was properly awarded, and says Johnson had no part in the decision to give the grant.

tom watson

Labour’s Tom Watson also wants to talk about the £100k grant to Hacker House.

He says the company itself isn’t even based in the UK and refuses to reveal where its UK employees are. 

“The truth is out prime minister does reckless things,” Watson says. “He is a man whose character renders him unfit for the office he holds.”

The Sun’s political editor has more details on that hint from Cox for another bid to have a general election.

Tom Newton Dunn says the government is trying to “regain the moral high ground”.

Perhaps the strongest performer so far this afternoon was Labour MP for Huddersfield Barry Sheerman.

Here’s what he had to say about Johnson’s government and its attitude after the Supreme Court ruled the prorogation was unlawful.

It’s looking like it won’t be until around 4pm that we hear from the Prime Minister at this stage. Although  the Hacker House question was well over an hour overdue.

Could be even later than that.

Johnson, Rees Mogg, Cummings, Cox – there are a lot of calls for people to step down.

Another under scrutiny is Lord Keen, the government’s lawyer who fought the propagation case in Scottish court.

Lib Dem peer Lord Jeremy Purvis says he should resign.

With talk in the House of Commons now turning to Thomas Cook, so we’ll leave it there for now.

Check back in later this afternoon where we’ll bring you everything that Boris Johnson has to say when she shows up in the Commons.

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