Select committee report reveals Brexit departmental turf wars
European scrutiny committee report flags problems in coordinating policy between DExEU and Cabinet Office
Former Brexit secretary David Davis Credit: Parliament TV
Brexit-related disagreements between cabinet members have pitted Whitehall departments against each other and weakened the UK’s negotiating capabilities, MPs have warned in a new report.
The European Scrutiny Committee’s probe into the draft UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement has made an interim finding that “the government’s internal handling of the negotiating process has created divisions between departments” that have “undermined” its position.
Its conclusions are based on evidence sessions with ex-Brexit secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab, as well as former Department for Exiting the European Union ministers Steve Baker and Suella Braveman.
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The committee’s report, published ahead of this week’s key Westminster votes on the nature of the UK’s departure from the European Union – or the potential extension of the Article 50-mandated exit date – does not name civil servants.
However, it does paint a picture of power struggles between the Cabinet Office and DExEU, and refers to evidence from Davis on the extent to which he had “less influence than expected in drawing up the UK negotiating position and conducting negotiations”.
“He told us, for instance, that the Chequers deal had been drawn up by No 10 and that he had been given only five days to review it,” the report said.
It goes on to quote Steve Baker, who was parliamentary undersecretary of state at DExEU from June 2017 until July last year, on the same topic.
“Within [DExEU], ministers led by David Davis were developing one policy and the Cabinet Office Europe unit was clearly developing another,” he said. “For a secretary of state to be cut out of the development of his main policy is quite a debacle. It seems that something similar happened to Dominic Raab as his successor.”
The committee said Raab had “described his restructuring efforts to ensure that the prime minister had the right political and technical advice at all times and the challenges he encountered in doing so”.
It continued: “The example he gave us, although he was cautious in ascribing direct cause and effect, was that of the robust line he took on insisting on an exit mechanism from the Northern Ireland backstop – an issue which of course has become one of the most contentious matters in the in the withdrawal agreement – which resulted in what he called ‘some pushback’ from No 10.”
EU select committee chair – and leading Brexiteer – Sir Bill Cash called on prime minister Theresa May to publish the full text of her draft withdrawal agreement and the implementation bill ahead of the “meaningful vote” scheduled for tomorrow.
He also demanded MPs be given full details of attorney general Geoffrey Cox’s negotiations with the European Commission on the grounds that it was essential that parliament had all the information it needed to make the “series of momentous decisions” it was tasked with.
“As a select committee, we have a duty to assist in this process – as does the government,” he said.
“Our unanimously-agreed interim report is intended to inform members across the house, as well as those following events throughout the country, ahead of the second ‘meaningful vote’ promised by the prime minister.
“It shines a light not just on the draft withdrawal agreement and political declaration that we will be voting on, but how internal government divisions have hamstrung its ability to negotiate effectively with the European Union – a key theme of evidence gathered in our inquiry to date. We also highlight how parliament’s future legislative freedom will be constrained.”
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