MPs voice anger over editing of disclosed documents on Brexit impact

David Davis faces a parliamentary backlash after documents detailing the potential impact of Brexit on 58 sectors of the UK economy were edited before being handed to MPs.

The cross-party Commons Committee on Exiting the EU will consider its response in a behind-closed-doors session in Parliament, but the Brexit Secretary has been condemned by members of the panel because the full findings have not been disclosed and Labour has threatened to raise the issue with Speaker John Bercow.

The handover of the documents to the committee, chaired by Labour MP Hilary Benn, came a day ahead of the deadline agreed by the Brexit Secretary following a Commons vote.

Letter issued by the Brexit Select Committee from David Davis to Hilary Benn
Letter issued by the Brexit Select Committee from David Davis to Hilary Benn

In a letter to Mr Benn, Mr Davis said the papers had been redacted because there was no guarantee the committee would keep them secret.

He said: "Given that we have received no assurances from the committee regarding how any information passed will be used, we have sought not to include commercially, market and negotiation sensitive information.

"Delivering a successful outcome to our EU exit negotiations for the whole country requires keeping some information confidential for the purposes of the negotiations."

In the letter, also delivered to Lord Jay, Mr Benn's counterpart in the upper chamber, Mr Davis called for a meeting before any decision to publish the information.

"I am sure you recognise that there are aspects of the analyses which may still be sensitive to the negotiations especially in the context of this particular point in time. I would therefore appreciate the opportunity to discuss these sectoral analyses further before any decision is taken to share the information more widely."

Brexit Secretary David Davis
Brexit Secretary David Davis

Labour committee member Seema Malhotra, who has led efforts to examine the sectoral papers, said MPs must be given the full documents "and nothing less".

"It seems like the Government have already decided what should and should not be seen by editing them before sending the impact studies to the select committee," she said. "David Davis has publicly stated for months that the reports are complete.

In evidence to the select committee he had said they were "in excruciating detail".

In November, his department was saying they "didn't exist".

"British businesses and families deserve better than this. They need certainty for their futures.

"The select committee must be given the full analyses which were completed and nothing less. We cannot and should not be short-changed. This will not be in the national interest. The public and Parliament must no longer be kept in the dark."

Liberal Democrat committee member Wera Hobhouse said: "There is a fine line between what is commercially sensitive and what is simply politically embarrassing for the Government. It should be up to MPs on the Brexit Committee, not David Davis, to make that call."

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-- Exiting the EU Cttee (@CommonsEUexit) November 20, 2017

Mr Davis agreed to release the documents after Labour won a Commons vote on November 1 asking for what it termed the "impact assessments" to be provided to the committee.

The Brexit Secretary confirmed in a letter to Mr Benn two days later that he was making arrangements to comply, but insisted that it was not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments existed in the form suggested by the motion.

Instead, he said that Dexeu had drawn up a "wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum" which looked at different sectors' current trading arrangements and the possible alternatives following Brexit.

Dexeu stressed that ministers have a responsibility, endorsed by Parliament, not to release information that would undermine the UK's negotiating position.

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

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir 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."

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