Cross-party pressure growing on the Government to publish its Article 50 legal advice

Leading supporters of the Open Britain campaign, led by Chris Leslie MP and Chuka Umunna MP, are supporting an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that would require the Government to publish the legal advice it has received on whether the UK’s notification to leave the EU under Article 50 is legally revocable. The amendment is backed by 26 MPs so far, from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.  

The amendment follows the speech by Lord Kerr, the key architect of Article 50, in which he asserted that the UK has the right to withdraw our Article 50 notification if we choose to do so. A similar opinion has been expressed by Jean-Claude Piris, the former Legal Counsel of the European Council, and by three prominent QCs, who last week published a legal opinion to underline their argument. In addition, the House of Lords European Union Committee produced a report on the legal advice around Article 50 and concluded that “a Member State could legally reverse a decision to withdraw from the EU at any point before the date on which the withdrawal agreement took effect.”

The Government has repeatedly failed to offer any clarity on what legal advice it has received relating to the revocability of the UK’s Article 50 notification and has refused to even ‘confirm or deny’ the very existence of legal advice as Ministers refuse to publish the advice they have received when asked to do so by Freedom of Information requests, In one case, a Minister in the House of Lords, has had to correct the record after giving misleading statements to the House, where he appeared to suggest that Article 50 could not be withdrawn.  

Chris Leslie MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said:

“People should know what legal advice the Government has received relating to the vital question of the revocability of our Article 50 notification.

“This amendment is designed to provide transparency, so that MPs and our constituents know all the facts about Article 50. If the Government have been told that the Article 50 notification can legally be revoked, they should be up-front with the public about it.

“Brexit is one of the most significant events in this country for at least a generation. Everyone has the right to know the full facts about it, and everyone has the right to keep an open mind about whether or not it’s the right path for our country when they have seen the facts.”

Chuka Umunna MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said:

“A variety of legal experts and the architect of Article 50 himself, Lord Kerr, have all made clear that our notification to leave the EU under Article 50 is legally revocable if we so wish.

“It is not acceptable for the Government to try and hide the legal advice they’ve received on Article 50, or to create false impressions of what that legal advice says.

“We’ve already seen the Government defeated in their attempt to avoid giving Parliament a meaningful vote on Brexit, with Amendment 7, and they will come under increasing pressure on this issue as well if they continue to refuse to be straightforward with the public and Parliament about whether our Article 50 letter can be withdrawn.”



Notes to editors

List of supporters and full text of the amendment

New Clause 6:

Mr Chris Leslie

Chuka Umunna

Kate Green

Mike Gapes

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Angela Smith

Catherine McKinnell

Stephen Doughty

Paul Farrelly

Mr Ben Bradshaw

Ian Murray

Mary Creagh

Peter Kyle

Wes Streeting

Dame Margaret Hodge

Stephen Kinnock

Caroline Lucas

Seema Malhotra

Darren Jones

Helen Hayes

Stella Creasy

Tom Brake

Mr David Lammy

Rushanara Ali

Mr Pat McFadden

Liz Kendall


To move the following new clause –

“Alteration to the notification under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on the European Union

Her Majesty’s Government shall publish a summary of the legal advice it has received in respect of the ability of the United Kingdom to extend, alter or revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on the European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”

Member’s Explanatory Statement:

This new clause would require Ministers to place in the public domain a summary of the legal advice they have received concerning the options available for the United Kingdom in respect of the notification made under Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union.

Examples of legal opinions stating that Article 50 notification is revocable

  • Lord Kerr’s speech, organised by Open Britain, is here:
  • Jean-Claude Piris said at an event organised by the Centre for European Reform that it is “legally possible” for the UK Government to withdraw its Article 50 letter having already invoked it.
  • Three QCs, including Jessica Simor, published a legal opinion on 11th January 2018 in which they state that the notification of withdrawal under Article 50 is legally revocable. The full opinion can be read here.
  • The full text of the House of Lords legal advice on the revocability of the UK’s Article 50 notification of withdrawal can be read here.

Examples of the Government’s failure to provide clarity on Article 50 legal advice

  • In response to a Freedom of Information request from a member of the public asking for the relevant legal advice the Government had received on Article 50, the Department for Exiting the EU would neither “confirm nor deny” whether the Department held any such information. The FOI can be read in full here.
  • One Government minister, Lord Callanan, was forced to twice correct the record in the chamber of the House of Lords, after he wrongly asserted that the UK Supreme Court had ruled against the revocability of Article 50 in a legal case brought by Gina Miller. In fact, the UK Supreme Court has issued no such ruling. The full context can be read here: