David Davis has asked for more time before releasing the Government’s secret economic analysis of Brexit – despite ministers agreeing last week to publish the papers.
The Brexit Secretary has written to the chair of Parliament’s Brexit Select Committee Hilary Benn telling him it will take his department time to bring together all the information required from across Government.
He also repeated his request that some parts of the report remain secret in order to avoid harming the UK’s Brexit negotiating position.
In the Commons this afternoon, Speaker John Bercow said if the papers weren’t released immediately, a minister should come to Parliament by close of play on Tuesday to explain the reason for delay.
Davis is set for a showdown meeting with Benn next Monday to thrash out what parts of the Government’s secret economic analysis of Brexit can be published.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw accused the Government of “dragging its feet”, and in the Commons this afternoon, Speaker John Bercow said if the papers weren’t released immediately, a minister should come to Parliament by close of play on Tuesday to explain the reason for delay.
In his letter to Benn, Davis was keen to point out that the work “is not, nor has it ever been, a series of discrete impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of Brexit on these sectors. It is important that this is understood from the start.”
When it comes to the timetable for publishing the papers, Davis said: “It will take my department – and other departments, since this work draws on inputs from across Government – time to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative for the Committee.”
He added: “We also have an obligation to consider where it would not be in the public interest for material to be published. Furthermore, it is important to recognise in some cases there may be confidential or commercially sensitive information in this analysis and that in many cases this analysis has been developed to underpin advice to ministers of the negotiation options in various scenarios.”
“I think you would agree that such advice to Ministers must remain private.”
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Benn is not planning to respond to the letter, as he is waiting to hear what Davis has to say in Monday’s meeting.
In the Commons on Monday afternoon, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Minister Matthew Pennycook raised a point of order over the delay.
He said: “I am concerned that the government is not treating [Wednesday’s decision] or the House with the respect and seriousness it requires.”
Bercow replied: “The motion passed on Wednesday obliges ministers to provide the Committee of Exiting the European Union with the impact assessments arising from sector analyses.
“That should be done very promptly indeed.
“Failing that I expect ministers to explain to the House before we rise tomorrow evening why they have not and when they intend to do so.”
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw MP, backer of anti-Brexit group Open Britain, called for the papers to be handed over immediately and in full.
He said: “The Government itself says it has had these Brexit impact assessments for months, so it is simply not credible to now say it will take time to compile the information.
“This smacks of an attempt by the Government to avoid proper scrutiny. Parliament voted unanimously in favour of releasing these studies, and the Speaker of the House has confirmed that the result of the vote was binding.
“The Government cannot wriggle its way out of this by dragging its feet and trying to hide information it finds politically inconvenient.
“These reports should be handed over to the Brexit select committee immediately and in full.
“This cross-party committee can then determine how to publish them. It is only right that people are given the full picture about the implications of the Government’s hard Brexit plans, and that they keep an open mind as new facts come to light.”
Civil servants have drawn up assessments on how leaving the EU will affect 58 sectors of the UK economy, but the Government initially refused to release the work to MPs.
Last Wednesday, November 1, ministers finally agreed to hand over the confidential internal work after Labour sought to use an obscure parliamentary procedure to force their hand.
During the Commons debate, anti-Brexit Tory MP Anna Soubry joined voices from the Labour benches in calling on the Government to release the papers.
She said: “The implication is quite clear: there’s something in them that’s not to be disclosed because it might actually prick this golden bubble, this balloon of the promised land of Brexit.”
The Government has already published the list of sectors that have been looked at by civil servants, ranging from aerospace and aviation to tourism and legal services.