David Davis is facing criticism for redacting key information on Brexit analysis documents finally handed over to parliament on Monday. The Brexit secretary had been locked in a battle with MPs for months over his refusal to produce the papers.
The 39 documents, spanning 850 pages, detail the government’s analysis of the effects of leaving the European Union on 58 areas of the economy. In a letter to Hilary Benn, the Commons Committee on Exiting the EU chairman, Davis admitted that “market and negotiation-sensitive information” had been expunged. He said this was because the government had received “no assurances how any information will be used,” The Times reports.
Labour says the failure to publish all of the analysis risks leaving the government in contempt of parliament. But the government continues to insist it has a duty to ensure that whatever is released is not commercially sensitive and doesn’t put the UK at a disadvantage in Brexit negotiations.
Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said on Twitter: “Not good enough. The vote was clear & binding. Reports in full should be handed over. We intend to press this issue.
"Labour fully understands the importance of protecting the UK’s negotiating position with the European Union. However, the decision agreed unanimously by MPs earlier this month was about transparency and ensuring Parliament had the information it needs to hold ministers to account during the Brexit process,” he added.
The transfer of papers to the committee after weeks of pressure came a single day before a deadline set by parliament. The government only agreed to publish the documents in any form after losing a binding motion brought by Labour, which instructed ministers to reveal the impact assessments to parliament. Significantly, both Brexiteers and former Remainers on the committee supported the move.
“The motion was clear and a failure to follow it would be a potential breach of privilege,” Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit-supporting Tory MP, told The Times. “Thus the government must provide all the papers or ask the Commons to pass a new amended motion. It is a matter of the rights of parliament, neither party political or about Brexit.”
A Labour committee member, Seema Malhotra, told the newspaper that MPs must be given the full documents “and nothing less.” She added: “It seems like the government have already decided what should and should not be seen by editing them before sending the impact studies to the select committee. The public and parliament must no longer be kept in the dark.”
The committee is due to meet on Tuesday to decide whether to make public all or part of the documents they have been handed. “It seems clear that a major exercise of sanitizing has gone on,” a source close to Rees-Mogg told The Times. “The motion before parliament was clear that the government had to publish all their analyses. It was not that they should spend three weeks removing information and deciding what the committee should see. The information should be published in full. Anything else is potentially in contempt of parliament.”
According to a source close to Davis, the 39 papers included “significant” new information and called for MPs to suspend judgment until they had read them. The source added that Davis did not believe he was in contempt because the original motion called for the publication of 58 sectoral impact assessments that did not exist in a collated form.