Government loses vote on secret Brexit reports
MPs last night passed a motion ordering the government to release 58 secret assessments into the economic damage from Brexit.
But Ministers have caused a furious backlash by refusing to say if they will abide by the motion, even though Parliamentary clerks advised that the decision was “binding”.
The Government had been fighting to keep its Brexit impact assessment papers secret, amid claims their release would weaken the UK’s negotiating hand.
Conservatives declined to take part in the vote, prompting allegations that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, knew she would lose and has lost control of the parliamentary process for Brexit.
It consequently meant that the motion, which demanded that the Brexit reports should be released to a select committee of MPs, was passed unanimously.
Labour had tabled a special “Humble Address” motion, which is a centuries-old and infrequently used procedure, that asks the Queen directly to request documents from the Government.
The Speaker John Bercow said he would wait for a government response to the motion. He advised: “Motions of this kind have in the past been seen as effective or binding.”
He warned ministers could be in “contempt” of Parliament if they ignore the call for the secret reports to be released.
Labour MP Chris Bryant said if the power to call the release of the ‘secret’ reports was not policed then, “we end up completely disenfranchising this Parliament – we make ourselves utterly impotent”.
Pro-EU Tory MP Anna Soubry said the Government was scared to reveal the truth about EU withdrawal, saying: “It might prick this golden bubble, this balloon, of the promised land of Brexit.”
Labour hailed the vote as a “victory for Parliament and for democracy”. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said:
“It’s completely unacceptable for the Tories to have wasted months avoiding responsible scrutiny and trying to keep the public in the dark.
“The reality is that it should not have taken an ancient parliamentary procedure to get ministers to listen to common sense.
“As the Speaker has made clear, the Government cannot ignore tonight’s binding decision. David Davis must now respond to Parliament’s ruling and urgently set a date for when he will share these papers.”
During the debate, Sir Keir said:
“Only weak Governments push Parliament away and ignore the facts. It should not require an arcane parliamentary procedure to force the Government to release these documents, but after 10 months of trying, that is what Parliament now has to do.
“The current impasse prevents Parliament doing its job, undermines accountability and is inconsistent with transparency. The Government should support the motion before the House today.”
Tory MP and ardent Brexiter, Jacob Rees-Mogg said:
“I am one Member of this House who welcomes the use of a 19th century procedure to hold the Government to account.”
SNP MP Peter Grant said:
“This debate is not about which party’s position on Brexit has been more chaotic; it is about the importance of making sure that Parliament and the public have information to which they are entitled to hold us all to account. A few minutes ago, I was reminded of what a pity it is that these analyses were not available before 23 June 2016.”
Labour’s Hilary Benn said:
“This is about transparency and the need for Parliament to have the information and facts it requires in order to do its job.”
Anna Soubry, who strongly supported Remain in last year’s referendum said:
“The country has voted – 52% of those who voted voted to leave the EU – and people like me accept that we are going to leave the EU.
“But I am not going to stand by and see the future of my children’s generation and the grandchildren I hope will follow being trashed and ruined without any form of debate and disclosure as to the consequences and, arguably, the options that might be available as disclosed in all these documents that cover so many sectors in so many ways.”
Labour’s Phil Wilson said:
“In supporting this motion, I am saying that we need openness. We need to take back control in this Chamber. Those who wanted to leave said that throughout the referendum; now we need to put it into practice.”
Labour MP David Lammy said:
“As night follows day, it will mostly not be us in this Chamber who suffer or struggle as a consequence of any shift in our economy.
“It is people’s jobs and livelihoods and how they feed their children that matters, and for that reason, we must see those impact assessments. It is a crying shame that this process began because of parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests, and not because the Government felt able to be open.”
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who helped to run the official Stronger In Remain campaign said:
“I rise to urge Members on both sides of the House to support the motion. I do so for the simple reason that, without publication, it is impossible for this House to do its job, which is to hold the Government to account.
“We must have a full, frank and informed debate about what Brexit means, and particularly about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for our society, for our economy and for jobs, trade and living standards. The fact is that this House and the British people cannot have that debate without access to the key information.”
Labour MP Christian Matheson added:
“The refusal of the Government to publish these impact assessments is sadly part of a pattern of shutting out scrutiny and opposition throughout.
“The basic issue is that the Government are being driven by hard-line ideological Brexiteers whose priority is to leave with as hard a Brexit as possible. They want a blank canvas on which to repaint the UK in their own desolate vision, shorn of rights for ordinary people and protections for the environment and consumers, and creating as free a market as possible.”
LibDem MP, Wera Hobhouse said:
“The vote to leave the European Union was hailed by those who champion Brexit as “taking back control”, yet we see the power of this House being undermined almost on a daily basis: it seems that the Government have no intention of respecting that vote. Now the Government are keeping the realities of Brexit away from the British people.
“This lack of transparency and erosion of democracy is an utter insult to every single person who voted in the referendum, whether they supported leave or remain. Standing up for democracy is more important than ever, and I will do precisely that.”
The debate ended with Labour MP Dennis Skinner raising a point of order:
“I know that Mr Speaker likes to reply to points of order, so I will just throw him one. He and I have been here a long time, so, like me, does he feel that the Government are dying on their feet?”
The Speaker replied:
“It is not for me to make any such assertion. I have done my bit in allowing the hon. Gentleman to indulge his appetite and I should leave it there.
“I honestly think that I have said enough for tonight. Members know that what I have said so far is clear, at least in terms of the intended sequence of events. I thank the hon. Gentleman and note that he made his point with a smile.”
Whether or not the government is dying on its feet, they are certainly not smiling tonight. They lost the motion and in due course the hitherto ‘secret’ Brexit assessment reports will almost certainly have to be published.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned sex scandals. Absolutely no smiles on the Conservative front bench..
• Words and graphic by Jon Danzig
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