David Davis (pictured) refused to hand over unredacted papers showing the impact Brexit will have on British industries
David Davis was today summoned by MPs for a grilling on his refusal to hand over uncensored reports on the impact of Brexit.
The Brexit Secretary held back key parts of the government assessments over fears they would be leaked by Remainers to damage Britain’s negotiating strategy.
Instead he supplied a cross-party committee with edited versions of the papers analysing the effect on 58 sectors of the UK economy.
But chairman Hilary Benn said Mr Davis’s decision to withhold information was ‘not in keeping’ with the outcome of a Commons vote earlier this month.
The committee has demanded that the minister ‘urgently’ comes to answer their questions on the issue.
Earlier, shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer set the stage for a showdown in the Commons on the issue by suggesting Mr Davis could be in contempt of parliament.
But Mr Davis did not come to the House to answer an urgent question tabled by Labour this afternoon. Instead he sent deputy Robin Walker, having apparently been detained at a Cabinet meeting.
In a letter to Mr Benn last night, Mr Davis said the papers had been redacted because there was no guarantee the MPs would keep them secret.
He said: ‘Given that we have received no assurances from the committee regarding how any information passed will be used, we have sought not to include commercially, market and negotiation sensitive information.
‘Delivering a successful outcome to our EU exit negotiations for the whole country requires keeping some information confidential for the purposes of the negotiations.’
Speaking to reporters after the committee met this morning, Mr Benn said it needed to consider whether Mr Davis had broken the rules – potentially putting him in contempt of Parliament – by not complying with the Commons decision.
‘The committee will need to consider whether this is potentially a breach of privilege but we haven’t reached any view on that yet,’ he said.
Mr Benn said he had been clear that the material should all be passed to the committee and the MPs would then judge what should be put in the public domain.
He said the committee ‘takes its responsibilities very seriously’ and would not publish anything that ‘undermines the negotiation’.
‘But I was also clear the judgment would be for the committee, not for the Government,’ he said. ‘We need to do our job.’
In the letter, also delivered to Lord Jay, chair of the Lords Brexit committee, Mr Davis called for a meeting before any decision to publish the information.
‘I am sure you recognise that there are aspects of the analyses which may still be sensitive to the negotiations especially in the context of this particular point in time,’ he wrote.
‘I would therefore appreciate the opportunity to discuss these sectoral analyses further before any decision is taken to share the information more widely.’
Labour committee member Seema Malhotra, who has led efforts to examine the sectoral papers, said MPs must be given the full documents ‘and nothing less’.
Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd were among the senior ministers gathering for the regular Cabinet meeting in Downing Street today
Environment Secretary Michael Gove was also at the Cabinet meeting this morning
Theresa May, pictured outside No10 yesterday, is expected to double the divorce bill offer to around £40billion in the coming weeks
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer (right) and Labour MP Seema Malhotra (left) have demanded the documents be released in full
‘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,’ she said.
‘British businesses and families deserve better than this. They need certainty for their futures.
‘The select committee must be given the full analyses which were completed and nothing less. We cannot and should not be short-changed. This will not be in the national interest.
‘The public and Parliament must no longer be kept in the dark.’
Mr Davis agreed to release the documents after Labour won a Commons vote on November 1 on an ‘humble address’ to the Queen asking for what it termed the ‘impact assessments’ to be provided to the committee.
Labour’s motion was passed without a vote earlier this month after ministers indicated the Government would not oppose it.
A spokesman for the Department said: ‘The Government has satisfied the motion, providing the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee with information covering 58 sectors of the economy.
‘We have also shared the information with the Lords EU Committee.
‘We have always been clear that our analysis does not exist in the form Parliament requested.
‘We have taken time to bring together the analysis we do have in a way that meets Parliament’s specific ask.
‘Our overall programme of work is comprehensive, thorough and is continuously updated.
‘This sectoral analysis is simply one part of it.’