Furious MPs hit back at Tory claims there were on the “side” of the EU for demanding the Government release secret economic studies on Brexit.
Brexit Minister Steve Baker said the public would be questioning “whose side are they on?” as a series of MPs called on the Government to honour its commitment to release the papers during an urgent debate in the Commons this afternoon.
The accusation was repeated by fellow Tory MP Desmond Swayne as he defended the Government’s delay in publishing the documents.
Labour, Lib Dem and anti-Brexit Tory MPs all reacted furiously to the claim, insisting they were on the side of the public.
The Government agreed last Wednesday to publish the analysis of how Brexit would impact on 58 sectors of the UK economy, but six days on Baker said there might be a further delay of up to three weeks.
After being challenged over the reason for the delay, Baker said: “I think the public will look at the Labour Party today, look at what they’re asking for, they will look at the kind of narrative which members opposite are trying to create and they will ask ‘Whose side are they on?’”
Labour’s former Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden described the Government as having “the stench of death about it”, before addressing the question of disloyalty to the UK.
He said: “Most concerning of all is the Minister’s attempt today to come to the House and say that those who ask for this information should have their patriotism questioned.
“This will not stand and it cannot be allowed to stand.
“The House gave the Minister an instruction, so my request to him today is to show – in this week, of all weeks for the Government – a modicum of competence and pass these studies to the Committee without redaction as soon as possible.”
Fellow Labour MP Jack Dromey also reacted angrily to the suggestion, telling Baker: “Whose side are we on? We’re on the side of the truth being told. We’re on the side of the British people. We’re on the side of British business. We’re on the side of British workers.”
Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said he and others are “on the side of the public”, while former Conservative Cabinet Minister Nicky Morgan chastised her Tory colleague for his words.
She said: “The minister does himself no favours by treating a perfectly legitimate request by this sovereign parliament for information about the most important negotiations to affect this country for decades by turning that into a partisan matter.”
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 to the Brexit Select Committee after Labour sought to use an obscure parliamentary procedure to force their hand.
In a letter to Brexit Select Committee chairman Hilary Benn on Monday, Brexit Secretary David Davis asked for more time to bring together all the information required from across Government.
In the Commons today, Baker repeated the claim, and said one of the reasons for the delays was that some of the documents were “out-of-date”.
Responding to a question from Benn, Baker said: “If we were to give him and the Committee the original reports which were commissioned at the beginning of the department’s life, he would find that that material was now incomplete and out of date. It’s our intention to satisfy the motion by providing to him information which is relevant and timely and correct.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant delivered a passionate rebuke to Baker:
It’s very, very simple. Parliament has told the Government to hand these documents over to the committee. The Government accepts that it’s a binding resolution of the House and it will have to do it. The Government accepts the things exist because the Minister has read them all and the Prime Minister has read the outlines of them. SO it’s very simple – he has to hand them over to the committee and he has to do so in a timely fashion. But he seems to think what he can do in the meantime is rewrite all of these documents because they’re not good enough. That is not good enough.
He added: “It’s all very well for him to smirk, it’s all very well from him to sneer at us about our patriotism, but if he holds this House in contempt, he holds the British public in contempt.”
Tory MP Bernard Jenkin tried to take some of the heat out of the debate, calling for cross-party working to get the papers published as soon as possible.
He said: “Can I suggest there is some private dialogue with the highly respected chair of the Brexit committee on privy council terms on how to resolve this without this becoming a matter of embarrassment that actually disrupts the negotiations?”
Baker said “steps have already been taken” to set up meetings with Benn, with David Davis set to meet with the Brexit Select Committee chairman on Monday November 13.