David Davis under fire after DExEU officials heavily edit Brexit impact assessments

MPs accuse DExEU of "contempt" after sectoral analysis handed to Brexit committee was stripped of market-sensitive information

David Davis asked officials to redact commercially sensitive information from Brexit impact assessments. Credit: Philip Toscano/PA

By Tamsin Rutter

28 Nov 2017

Brexit secretary David Davis was warned he could be "in contempt of parliament" after asking his department to redact all market-sensitive information from the impact assessments he handed over to MPs yesterday.

An urgent question was granted to Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer to ask Davis to make a statement in parliament about the 850-page analysis of how Brexit will impact 58 sectors that make up 85% of the UK economy, handed to a select committee on Monday. 

The Commons Exiting the European Union Committee, chaired by Labour MP Hilary Benn, met this morning to decide how to react to the heavily redacted version given to them by the Brexit department. It was also handed to the Lords Brexit committee and the devolved administrations. 


The Brexit committee has since confirmed that it will arrange for members to meet in private to view the document. It will also ask Davis to attend an evidence session as a matter of urgency, to confirm the process behind the department’s actions.

The Department for Exiting the European Union was forced to hand over the analysis following an opposition day motion on 1 November, having previously refused claiming publication would undermine policy creation.

According to Brexit minister Robin Walker, the reports cover a description of each sector, the current EU regulatory regime, existing frameworks for how trade is facilitated between countries in this sector, and sector views.

"We now consider the motion of 1 November 2017 to have been satisfied," he added.

But MPs have reacted with fury at the decision to redact market- and negotiation-sensitive information, and Starmer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the government appeared to be failing in its obligation to release the assessments. 

"They are certainly treating parliament with contempt and we intend to press the Speaker on the issue and raise the issue of whether they are now in contempt. Having agreed to this procedure, they are now breaching it at the 11th hour," he said. 

The Speaker, John Bercow, has granted Starmer an urgent question this afternoon. 

There has been some confusion about the format of these documents, which were thought to be 58 separate analyses – something Davis has denied. 

“Since the start of this process the government has been clear there are not, nor have there ever been, a series of discrete impact assessments arising out of our analysis of the 58 sectors," he wrote in a letter to Benn.

Civil servants in DExEU have therefore had to spend the last couple of weeks pulling internal data together into a usable form in order to release the impact assessments to parliament.

The department confirmed that its "overall programme of work is comprehensive, thorough and is continuously updated" and that the sectoral analysis is "simply one part of it".

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