David Davis to be grilled by MPs over redactions to Brexit impact reports
The Brexit Secretary said the papers had been redacted because there was no guarantee they would be kept secret.
David Davis is to face a parliamentary grilling next week over accusations he has treated the House of Commons with contempt by withholding information about the economic impact of Brexit from MPs.
The Brexit Secretary provided an 850-page dossier on the impact of leaving the European Union on 58 different sectors of the economy, but only after ensuring that all sensitive information had been removed.
Mr Davis was required to release the information to the Brexit Select Committee by a Labour motion, passed by the House of Commons without a vote earlier this month after ministers indicated that the Government would not oppose it.
Committee chairman Hilary Benn told Mr Davis the decision to remove information from the material supplied to MPs was “both contrary to the instruction given to the Government in that motion and to the clear expectations that I set out to you in our discussions”.
The cross-party committee should have been provided with all the available information, and it was for it, and not ministers, to decide what should be published, he said.
“The committee will therefore need to consider whether this is potentially a breach of privilege,” he warned.
Mr Davis later wrote to Mr Benn, agreeing to appear before the committee on December 6 to explain his actions.
Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart has written to Commons Speaker John Bercow to complain that the Government is holding the House in contempt by refusing to meet the terms of the November 1 motion.
I have already written to the Speaker on ‘Contempt of the House’ proceedings on the Brexit analysis papers. Tomorrow I will raise the matter again and ensure this is now progressed.— Pete Wishart (@PeteWishart) November 27, 2017
Mr Bercow earlier told the Commons that he would “do my duty” if any formal allegations of contempt were made.
Mr Davis did not appear in the House of Commons to respond to an urgent question from Labour on the nature of the dossier, which was delivered in two lever-arch files to the the Commons Brexit committee, the Lords EU committee and the devolved administrations.
There were cries of “where is he?” from the opposition benches when junior Brexit minster Robin Walker arrived to answer questions in his place.
Mr Walker insisted that “accessible and informative” information had been provided, and pointed out that arrangements were being made to set up a reading room for all MPs to examine the documents.
Ministers have insisted that the full information could not be disclosed because of its commercial sensitivity and potential undermine the Brexit negotiations in Brussels.
Mr Walker said that it could not be passed to the committee in unredacted form because the MPs “did not give any firm assurances that what was passed to them would not subsequently be published in full”.
But Mr Benn retorted: “I do object to any suggestion that the select committee or I as chair cannot be trusted to do our job.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said he was “deeply concerned that the sum total of documents generated by the Government’s work on the impact of their approach to Brexit on the economy can be squeezed into two lever-arch files”.
But Downing Street backed the approach taken by Mr Davis.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We believe that we have complied with the terms of the motion.
“We have collated around 800 pages of documents which we believe meets the request.”
Prominent Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, a member of the Exiting the EU Select Committee, urged the Government to release all the information or seek a new vote in the House of Commons.
He said: “To meet this motion it is not at the discretion of the Government to decide what to take out.
“It is now at the discretion of the select committee.
“I therefore urge the Government either to meet the terms of the motion in full or to seek to put down a new motion.”
Campaigners confirmed they are pressing ahead with judicial review proceedings in the High Court next week to force Mr Davis to release the studies in full.
Lawyers representing Green MEP Molly Scott Cato and Jolyon Maugham wrote to Mr Davis and Chancellor Philip Hammond last week giving them 14 days to release the studies, along with a Treasury report on the economic impacts of Brexit, or face legal action.
Confirming they will now take the case forward, Mr Maugham said: “The Government’s desperate desire to hide the reality of Brexit from its own people will not work.
“Our old-fashioned, homegrown common law gives us the right to see these documents, not just whatever’s left after a minister, desperate for secrecy, has gone at them with a large pair of dress-making scissors.”