Government does not know full cost of its Article 50 Supreme Court challenge due to 'electricity and printing charges'

Exclusive: Brexit Department admits it has 'no estimate' of full cost of its legal battle 

Benjamin Kentish@BenKentish
Monday 06 February 2017 21:34
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Brexit Secretary David Davis has previously refused to reveal the costs of the case, saying they will be published 'in due course'
Brexit Secretary David Davis has previously refused to reveal the costs of the case, saying they will be published 'in due course'

The Government has refused to say how much public money it spent on its failed Supreme Court challenge over Article 50 - because it does not know the “electricity costs of rooms used for preparing for the case” or “the cost of the printing of materials”, The Independent can reveal.

The Department for Exiting the European Union admitted it had "no estimates" of how much of taxpayers' money had been spent on fighting the months-long legal battle because it has not kept track of staffing costs, in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The admission is likely to anger MPs and campaigners who believe the Government was wrong to spend public money fighting for the right to bypass Parliament on an issue as important as Brexit.

Ministers have come under mounting pressure to reveal the financial cost of their decision to take the legal fight to the Supreme Court in an attempt to prevent Parliament being given a say on Brexit.

They have promised to publish the legal costs “in due course” and told The Independent this would happen “reasonably soon” now that the legal case has finished.

A Brexit Department official claimed it was “highly reasonably” that the information has so far been withheld.

However, legal fees are just one element of the overall cost of the case and do not include other expenses, such as the time spent working on the case by staff in the Attorney General’s office and the Department for Exiting the European Union.

The Independent can now reveal that this full figure will never be disclosed because the Government failed to keep track of how much time civil servants had spent on the case.

Responding to a complaint that it was refusing to publish the information despite several Freedom of Information requests, an official in the Department for Exiting the EU replied: “This information is not held because…it could be held to encompass anything from the proportionate rent and electricity costs of any rooms used for preparing for this case, to the cost of the printing of materials related thereto.

“We do not hold information on the hours worked by civil servants or other related employees on this case or non-legal costs related to [the legal battle]."

They added: “No estimates have been made as to how much civil servant time would have been spent on this case, nor of associated non-legal costs”.

Opposition MPs claimed the Government was trying to “evade accountability” over the true cost of the case.

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Tom Brake MP, the Liberal Democrats’ Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said: “This lack of transparency is completely unacceptable.

“The Government insisted on dragging this issue through the courts, instead of doing the right thing by giving MPs a say in the first place. It is taxpayers who end up footing the bill. The government must stop using ridiculous ‘Yes Minister’ excuses and come clean about how much this legal challenge cost.

“More broadly, Theresa May must stop trying to evade accountability over her Brexit plans and give the British people the final say on the deal she comes back with.”

The legal battle began when campaigners fighting for Parliament to have the right to vote on Brexit won a High Court battle after judges ruled the Prime Minister did not have the power to trigger Article 50 – the process by which Britain will leave the EU – by herself.

Ministers decided to appeal at the Supreme Court - Britain's highest legal authority - but were defeated for a second time.

Despite repeated demands from MPs, journalists and members of the public, the Government has refused to announce the cost to the taxpayer of its legal challenge. It has said it will publish the legal costs "in due course".

Answering questions from MPs in Parliament last month, Brexit Secretary David Davis refused six times to say how much the case had cost, admitting only that it had been “expensive”.

He said: “I am quite sure that the Supreme Court judgment will have been expensive on one level, because lawyers are expensive."

The figures would be published “in due course”, he added, saying “it will be worth whatever we have paid for it”.

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