Labour is making a fresh attempt to force the Government to hand over to MPs its assessments of the likely impact of Brexit on key industrial sectors.
Brexit Secretary David Davis this week confirmed 58 studies have been carried out on sectors covering 88% of the UK economy, but has so far resisted intense pressure to publish them, warning on Tuesday that to do so would undermine Britain’s negotiating position.
Now his shadow, Sir Keir Starmer, is to use an arcane parliamentary procedure in a bid to force a binding vote requiring Mr Davis to hand the papers over to the cross-party House of Commons Committee on Exiting the EU, chaired by Labour MP Hilary Benn.
A “humble address”, tabled by the shadow Brexit secretary for debate by MPs on Wednesday, would request the Queen to direct Mr Davis to release the documents.
Sir Keir said: “This debate is about transparency and accountability. Ministers cannot keep withholding vital information from Parliament about the impact of Brexit on jobs and the economy.
“Labour recognises the importance of protecting the Government’s negotiating position with the European Union. However, that does not give Ministers the right to impose a blanket ban on publishing any information whatsoever about the economic impact of Brexit.
“At the start of the negotiations, Theresa May said everyone needed certainty during the Brexit process and that the vote to leave was a vote for Parliament to take back control.
“If those words meant anything at all, then she should stop side-lining Parliament and give MPs the information they need to properly hold the Government to account in what are undoubtedly the most important negotiations since the Second World War.”
Sir Keir Starmer said the debate “is about transparency and accountability” (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Giving evidence to the House of Lords EU Committee on Tuesday, Mr Davis repeated the Government’s position that it would not publish the papers, which he said was backed by MPs in a Commons vote last year.
“There was a House of Commons vote in December of last year where we said that we are not required to release anything which undermines the negotiation or the national interest frankly, or the negotiating stance of the British Government,” he told peers. “That is the reasoning behind it.”
The impact assessments produced by the Department for Exiting the EU cover industrial sectors ranging from advertising, aerospace and agriculture to telecommunications, textiles and tourism, but Mr Davis said their importance should not be exaggerated.
“I don’t think you should overestimate what’s in them,” he told peers.
“They’re not economic models of each sector, they are looking at how much of it depends on European Union markets versus other markets, what other opportunities may be, what the regulatory structures are, all those sorts of things that inform the negotiation, but they are not predictions. So I wouldn’t overestimate what they are.”
David Davis repeated the Government’s position that it would not publish the papers (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Parliament’s rulebook Erskine May states that each House has the power to call for the production of papers through an address to the sovereign, but notes that the procedure has been used rarely since the middle of the 19th century.
Earlier this month a letter signed by 120 MPs called on the Brexit Secretary to publish the impact assessments. Former Tory Cabinet minister Dominic Grieve has also called for their release.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government must come clean on the impact Brexit will have on people’s jobs and livelihoods.
“It’s a poor excuse to say the secrecy is needed for negotiations. The EU27 will have the same information already from work by their own officials. The only people being kept in the dark are the British public.
“The longer that ministers hide the truth, the more people will believe it’s to bury bad news.”
It was not immediately clear whether Conservative MPs would once again follow their recent practice of failing to vote on Labour motions in Opposition Day debates in the Commons.