David Davis will be dragged before MPs as “matter of urgency” to explain why his department is holding back information on how Brexit will impact the UK economy.
The Brexit Select committee announced this afternoon it wants answers from Davis before it decides whether to publish the impact assessments into 58 sectors of the UK economy.
The Brexit Department handed over 850 pages of work to the committee on Monday, but in a letter to its chair, Hilary Benn, Davis said some information had been held back as it is “commercially, market and negotiation sensitive”.
That decision provoked fury from some MPs, with Labour’s Seema Malhotra accusing the Government of keeping the public and parliament “in the dark”.
Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer used an urgent question in the Commons today to argue the motion passed by Parliament on November 1 called for “not some of the reports, not redacted copies, the full reports” to be passed to MPs.
He added: “It is simply not open to the Secretary of State to choose to ignore it and to pass to the Select Committee the documents that he chooses.”
Replying for the Government, Brexit Minister Robin Walker hit back at suggestions anything had been removed from the documents.
He said: “We have not edited or redacted reports. At the time the motion was passed and subsequently we were clear that the documents did not exist in the form requested. We have collated information in a way that does not include some sensitive material but the documents which he freely admits he hasn’t seen do not contain redactions.”
In Davis’ letter to the Committee justifying why some information had been withheld, the Brexit Secretary said he had “received no assurances from the Committee regarding how any information passed will be used.”
Benn disputed that claim, and in a letter of response said: “May I remind you that I set out in our conversation of the 13 November how I proposed to handle the documents; namely that once they were released to us, we would consider then as a Committee alongside any representations that you wanted to make about anything that was commercial in confidence or which might undermine the negotiations - both considerations which the Committee accepts.”
Following up that claim in the Commons this afternoon, Starmer asked Brexit Minister Robin Walker: “What assurances were sought that were not given?
“And he better tread carefully because there will be an audit trail here, and if he can’t answer that question, if he didn’t pursue the assurances, if he didn’t suggest a course of action that was rejected, his cover for not disclosing these will be blown.”
Brexiteer Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg also hit out at the Government, telling the Commons: “It is not at the discretion of the Government what to take out - it is at the discretion of the Select Committee.”
Another Tory Brexiteer, Philip Hollobone, said the Government is “skating on very thin Parliamentary ice” with its actions, and suggested a new motion should be put forward to remove any ambiguity.
The Government is arguing it is able to hold back some information in order to abide by a motion in the Commons on 7 December 2016.
The motion stated: “There should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations to depart from the European Union after Article 50 has been triggered.”