Brexit: Ministers face further battle over papers detailing impact of EU withdrawal on the UK

If Parliament deems ministers have not released enough information the Government could be held in contempt of the Commons

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Monday 27 November 2017 19:07 GMT
David Davis's department has released 850 pages of documents, but Labour says some have been withheld
David Davis's department has released 850 pages of documents, but Labour says some have been withheld (Getty)

Ministers face a battle after withholding certain elements in a release of 850 pages of detailed analysis into the impacts of Brexit on the UK economy.

Labour said a failure to publish all of the analysis compiled by David Davis’s department in full risked leaving the Government in contempt of Parliament, which has ordered the documents’ publication.

But the Government insists it has a duty to ensure that whatever is released is not commercially sensitive and does not risk putting the UK at a disadvantage in Brexit negotiations.

The transfer of the papers to the Commons Committee on Exiting the EU after weeks of pressure came a single day before a deadline that Parliament had set.

The committee is now due to meet on Tuesday to decide whether to make public all or part of the documents they have been handed.

The handover to the committee, chaired by ex-Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, came after Labour won a Commons vote on the issue, pushing the Government to act.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: “Parliament was very clear in its instruction to ministers.

“All 58 impact assessments should have been shared with the select committee in full, without redaction and unedited.

“If the Government has failed to comply with this ruling then we will not hesitate in raising this matter with the Speaker.”

On 1 November, Labour tabled a “humble address” to the Queen asking for what it termed the “impact assessments” of Brexit to be provided to the Commons committee.

Labour’s motion was passed without a vote earlier this month after ministers indicated the Government would not oppose it.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said at the time that the arcane parliamentary procedure of a humble address used by Labour has “traditionally been regarded as binding or effective”, and said he would be willing to consider an accusation of contempt if the Government failed to respond.

But an official at Mr Davis’s Department for Exiting the European Union explained that the Government had never had 58 separate assessments as such, but instead had a broad body of information consisting of all the analysis that the UK Government had done on Brexit and issues related to various sectors.

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In a bid to comply with Parliament and assist the Commons committee, civil servants had drawn together in some 39 reports totalling 850 pages, documents that touched upon 58 sectors, the official said.

But The Independent understands that some information will have been withheld from the newly compiled reports if officials have deemed it damaging to commercial or the UK’s interests.

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government has satisfied the motion, providing the House of Commons [committee] with information covering 58 sectors of the economy.

“We have also shared the information with the Lords EU Committee.”

The spokesperson went on: “We have taken time to bring together the analysis we do have in a way that meets Parliament’s specific ask.

“Our overall programme of work is comprehensive, thorough and is continuously updated. This sectoral analysis is simply one part of it.”

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