David Davis faces 'contempt of Parliament' charge as he refuses to release full Brexit impact papers

The cabinet minister is to be grilled by MPs next week amid the growing row over the documents

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Tuesday 28 November 2017 20:35
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Bercow warns David Davis over release of Brexit studies

David Davis risks being held in “contempt of Parliament” after a row erupted over his refusal to release documents setting out the economic impact of Brexit.

The cabinet minister will now be forced to appear before a Commons committee of MPs next week to explain why he has failed to hand over the papers – despite a vote in Parliament demanding their release.

But as pressure mounted on the Brexit Secretary to give up the documents, Tory eurosceptics launched a counter-offensive pushing ministers to hold a second vote to ensure the papers are suppressed.

The growing row is set to see Mr Davis publicly grilled next Monday – the same day Theresa May will meet EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker to secure agreement that Brexit talks can finally move on to discussion of trade. It was reported on Tuesday that she has agreed to pay between £40bn-£50bn as part of the Brexit “divorce bill” to secure progress.

After Mr Davis failed to release all of the UK Government’s analysis of 58 business sectors in his possession to Parliament’s cross-party Brexit Committee, the body called him in to a hearing.

Meanwhile, Commons Speaker John Bercow told MPs: “When it is suggested that that meeting should be soon, it means soon – it does not mean weeks hence, it means very soon indeed.

“Nothing, no commitment, no other diarised engagement is more important than respecting the House.”

In what appeared to be a direct warning to Mr Davis, the Speaker said: “If a further representation alleging contempt is made to me, I will consider it very promptly and come back to the House.

“I hope the House knows me well enough to know that I will do my duty.”

If Mr Davis were to be held in contempt it could mean he is suspended, or expelled from the Common. In times gone by, MPs held in contempt were also locked in the clock tower of Parliament carrying Big Ben.

The minister was compelled to release some 850 pages of analysis that his Brexit Department has carried out into the potential impact of Brexit on dozens of UK sectors, following a vote in Parliament on 1 November.

The motion, put forward as a “humble address” to the monarch, passed without opposition from the Government and stated that the papers should be handed over while making no provision for any items to be withheld.

But ministers said some would be held back, if they deemed them commercially sensitive or disadvantageous to the UK’s Brexit negotiating hand.

Hilary Benn has accused the Government of failing to comply with the Commons vote

Ex-Labour cabinet minister Hilary Benn, who chairs the Brexit Committee, said it is clear his body had been given “edited” documents – meaning the Government had failed to comply with the Commons vote.

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, forced ministers to the Commons to answer questions on the matter on Tuesday.

He said of Mr Davis’s failure to release the full documents: “Whether he is in contempt of Parliament is a matter we will come to at a later date, but he is certainly treating Parliament with contempt.”

Meanwhile, former Chancellor Ken Clarke said the Government should have tried to oppose the motion if it had wanted to block publication in any way.

Priti Patel says Britain is 'ill-equipped' for Brexit talks

He went on: “We cannot allow post-Brexit to start reducing parliamentary sovereignty to a slightly ridiculous level.”

Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart went further, writing to the Speaker with a complaint that the Government had held the House in contempt by refusing to meet the terms of the vote.

He said: “David Davis campaigned for parliamentary accountability and taking back control during the EU referendum – yet today we find the Brexit Secretary and the UK Government doing everything they can to make sure MPs are unable to scrutinise the Government’s Brexit plans.”

David Davis set to face Commons committee over release of Brexit papers

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake commented: “Editing these reports is a breach of the agreement reached with MPs, meaning action over contempt of Parliament now looms.

“If the Government really believes in its own Brexit plans, why are they so scared of publishing these reports in full?”

But Tory backbench Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg raised the idea of holding a second vote in Parliament, which would essentially absolve the Government of the obligation to release all of the papers.

Fellow Conservative Brexit-backer Chris Chope backed the idea, as did Richard Graham, a Conservative member of the Brexit Committee, who said: “I believe it is now strongly in the Government’s interest to put forward a motion to amend the humble address, which many of us in this House would strongly support.”

Another Brexiteer, Philip Hollobone MP, said it had been a “mistake” by the Government not to amend the original motion, and, supporting the idea of a second vote, added: “The Government is now skating on very thin parliamentary ice.”

Brexit Minister Robin Walker told them the Government “will certainly look into” the proposal, and would take them “very seriously”.

The Brexit Department stressed that ministers had a responsibility, endorsed by Parliament, not to release information that would undermine the UK’s negotiating position.

A spokesman said: “The Government has satisfied the motion, providing the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee with information covering 58 sectors of the economy.”

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