Impact Assessment or Sectoral Analysis?

In December 2016 David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, told the Exiting the EU Select Committee that the Government was carrying out approximately 58 sets of analyses of the impact of Brexit on sectors which accounted for 85% of the UK economy.

Numerous attempts to access the information by the Committee were turned down on the basis that publication would prejudice the interests of the UK overseas and the UK’s economic interests.

The Opposition, using a parliamentary procedure in Erskine May, the authoritative book on parliamentary procedure and the constitutional conventions, tabled the following motion on 1 November 2017 that would result in a binding vote:

“That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the list of sectors analysed under the instruction of Her Majesty’s Ministers, and referred to in the Answer of 26 June 2017 to Question 239, be laid before this House and that the impact assessments arising from those analyses be provided to the Committee on Exiting the European Union.”

Following a debate, the Government did not take part in a vote and they were forced to release the documents to the Exiting the EU Select Committee. The motion was about transparency, accountability and ensuring that Parliament can do its job of scrutinising the Government properly. However, the Government delayed their release.

On 6 December 2017, the Secretary of State told the Committee on Exiting the EU that the Government has not produced economic forecasts on the likely impact of Brexit on various sectors of the economy. The Secretary of State made a Written Statement on 7 November 2017 stating that “it is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist” and that it would take time to collate the information.

The Committee asked the Secretary of State how the assessments could not exist when he had previously told MPs in September 2016 that there were sectoral analyses for “about 50 cross-cutting sectors, for what is going to happen to them”.

The Secretary of State responded by saying that the sectoral analyses conducted in 2016 were looking at what the industries consisted of, but the impact assessments would begin “a little closer to the negotiating timetable”.

These conflicting statements may have made the Secretary of State in contempt of parliament for not releasing all the information that he was asked for by the Commons.

The motion was very clear; the Secretary of State had to give the papers to the Exiting the European Union Committee. After weeks of delay, Members of Parliament were finally allowed to review the documents.

In the House of Commons during Business Questions I recounted my experience reading the papers. I had to make an appointment and arrive five minutes early. I was then escorted by a Government official to a room where I could look at the papers. I was not allowed to use my mobile phone, which was put in a draw, and I was only allowed a notebook and pencil. We are elected representatives, and we are entitled to see the papers. I had to sign a note to say that we would not reveal what is in them. It is unacceptable that democratically elected Members of Parliament cannot share that information with our constituents. Many of the footnotes come from the Office for National Statistics, so they are in the public domain. As they are just matters of fact, I could see no reason why Members cannot read the documents in the Library and why they could not be published.

The Speaker of the House, on 14 December 2017, made a statement that due to the Secretary of State’s semantic phrasing of Impact Assessments and Sectoral Analysis, and after consulting with the Clerks of the House, he found the Secretary of State is not to be in contempt of parliament and the Secretary of State had complied with the resolution of the House.

On 21 December 2017, the Committee published 39 Sectorial Reports. However, they excluded anything that was “commercially, market or negotiation-sensitive”. This included all the sectoral analyses.

It is not clear why the Government has withheld parts of these documents as they contain information this already in the public domain.