We should have known all along that the 58 Brexit impact assessments that Brexit Secretary, David Davis, claimed existed only last month are in fact all bluff and bluster.
Just like Brexit itself.
Today Mr Davis told MPs that the UK government’s 58 sectoral analyses of the impact of Britain leaving the EU can’t be handed over because, “It is not the case that [they] exist.”
The Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, had insisted that the government had to publish the reports by tonight, or otherwise risk being in contempt of Parliament.
That followed a binding vote in the Commons last week that the reports had to be released.
On 30 October Mr Davis said the studies existed when he revealed the full list of the 58 different sectors that they covered – which represented around 90% of the UK’s business categories.
And in June Mr Davis said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We’ve got 50, nearly 60 sector analyses already done.”
But writing to the Brexit select committee today, Mr Davis asserted that MPs were labouring under “some misunderstanding”.
He said that the analysis he had referred to were “a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum”.
He added, “It is not, nor has it ever been, a series of discrete impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of Brexit on those sectors.”
Davis said it would “take time to collate and bring together this information”, claiming his team would do so in “no more than three weeks”.
In other words, panic stations! They now have to prepare those impact reports in a hurry. After all, they don’t exist yet.
MPs today expressed anger that the Department for Exiting the EU had denied them the opportunity to look at the studies as scheduled.
Labour MP Chris Bryant said the move suggested the government, “holds this house in contempt [and] the British public in contempt”.
Answering on behalf of Mr Davis, Brexit minister Steve Baker insisted to the committee that full publication of the reports would risk harming negotiations with the EU.
He said the public will “look at the kind of narrative members opposite are trying to create and they will ask ‘whose side are they on?’
He went on to insist that preparing the impact papers would “distract both ministers and officials from the negotiations”.
Yes, because now they have to actually prepare those reports that didn’t exist! That is of course a huge distraction for ministers and officials.
Could it get much worse? After all, the European Parliament already published a comprehensive Brexit impact report last March. Yes, last March!
That report summarised that, ‘For the EU 27, the losses [of Brexit] are found to be virtually insignificant, and hardly noticed in the aggregate. By contrast, for the UK, the losses could be highly significant, over ten times greater as a share of GDP.’
At the start of the negotiations with the EU last July, David Davis allowed himself to be photographed opposite the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, without any papers in front of him, whereas Mr Barnier’s team had stacks of preparation documents.
At the time, the photo was dismissed, as it was claimed that Mr Davis was sure to have some papers… somewhere. But now it seems the photo summed up the situation more accurately than many on the UK team will care to admit.
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson, Tom Brake, commented on the photo, “He didn’t have any position papers with him because this government has no agreed Brexit position.
“This is a government with no papers, no plan and no time for the most important negotiations of a lifetime. They are meant to be negotiating Brexit but they can’t even negotiate among themselves.”
Later, the former chief of staff at the Department for Exiting the European Union, James Chapman, commented that Mr Davies doesn’t bother reading his briefing notes.
Apparently he keeps all the information in his head, so doesn’t need reports.
That of course explains why Mr Davis is always so well briefed.
During last year’s EU referendum campaign, Mr Davis claimed that Britain would be able to negotiate individual trade deals with each of the EU’s member states.
He appeared to be completely unaware that one of the main basic features of the European Union is that EU countries cannot negotiate individual trade deals and instead do so as a bloc of all its members.
Then, after Mr Davis was appointed to be the new Brexit Secretary last year, he boasted that Britain would be able to secure free trade areas “10 times the size” of the European Union.
Liberal Democrat MEP, Catherine Bearder, had to point out that this would be 1.5 times bigger than the planet’s entire economy.
What’s happened to Britain?
We have a foreign secretary who claims it’s possible to have a cake and eat it; an international trade secretary who says there’s as much chance of Britain staying in the EU as him meeting a tooth fairy, and a Brexit secretary who last month boldly claimed his department had prepared 58 Brexit impact reports which today he said don’t actually exist.
The country is being run by imbeciles.
• Words and graphic by Jon Danzig
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