Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Brexit: The non-existent impact assessments demanded by the Humble Address

On 1st November the House of Commons voted to present this Humble Address to HM The Queen:

"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." [My emphasis].

The address was the outcome of the 1st November debate entitled Exiting the EU: Sectoral Impact Assessments.  Here is the Hansard record of the debate.  The phrase "impact assessments" is used throughout the debate by many members.  Nevertheless,
it is interesting to note carefully what was actually said by the Minister (Mr Robin Walker MP - Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the EU) during the debate:

"..... I point out that there has been some misunderstanding about what this sectoral analysis actually is. It is not a series of 58 economic impact assessments."

and later

"The House was quite keen to hear out some of this analysis, so I thought it would be helpful if I set out some of the details of what it is and what it is not. I have explained that the analysis is not a series of 58 economic impact assessments. It is a cross-sectoral analysis. It is not just work undertaken by our Department, as it draws on analysis and expertise across the whole of Government. But it is not the case - and I do not believe that this Department or any of its Ministers has ever said that it is - that there are 58 economic impact assessments that neatly summarise what all the eventualities could mean for each sector."

So, we have a Humble Address to require production of the "impact assessments" but the government's analysis is not a "series of 58 economic impact assessments."

Contempt?

During the week 1st to 7th November there was some speculation that Ministers could be held in contempt of Parliament if they did not comply with the binding motion of 1st November though the government accepted the binding nature of the motion - The Guardian 5th November.

7th November -

On Tuesday 7th November, there was an Urgent Question on Exiting the EU Impact Assessments in the House of Commons.  The question, in the name of Mr Matthew Pennycook MP, was worded - "To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union if he will make a statement on when the Government intend to provide the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union with impact assessments arising from sectoral analyses carried out by Her Majesty’s Ministers."

Here is the Hansard Record of this debate.  This begins with Mr Walker stating:

"Let me clarify exactly what the sectoral analysis is. It is a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum. It means looking at 58 sectors to help to inform our negotiating positions. The analysis examines the nature of activity in the sectors and how trade is conducted with the EU currently, and in many cases considers the alternatives after we leave the EU, as well as looking at existing precedents.

Our analysis is constantly evolving and being updated, but it is not, and nor has it ever been, a series of impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of Brexit on these sectors. Given this, it will take the Government some time to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative to the Committee. We will provide this information to the Committee as soon as possible. We have made plain to the House authorities that we currently expect this to be in no more than three weeks."

Also on 7th November, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU (Mr David Davis MP) sent a written statement to Parliament in which Mr Davis wrote - " ..... it is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist. During the Opposition Day debate the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State told the House "there has been some misunderstanding about what this sectoral analysis actually is. It is not a series of 58 impact assessments."  (I have reproduced the full statement in the Box below).

So we have "sectoral analysis" but 58 impact assessments do not exist.

You may wonder why there are no impact assessments given the massive economic importance of Brexit and the need for business to make decisions now in preparation for leaving the EU under whatever terms - (currently unknown but under negotiation) - are eventually agreed.  Perhaps the absence of such assessments is the real default in all of this.

Mr Davis' statement indicates that material (the sectoral analyses) will be produced within around 3 weeks but it may not be a "warts and all" disclosure since Mr Davis states - " ... it is important to recognise in some cases there may be confidential or commercially sensitive information in this analysis, and that in many cases this analysis has been developed to underpin advice to ministers of the negotiation options in various scenarios. It is well understood (as was the case under successive administrations) that such advice to ministers must remain private."

This whole episode has a very unsatisfactory feel about it.  Perhaps Caroline Lucas MP had it right in saying - "Does the Minister recognise that, with his statement today, he really has turned farce into a new art form?"

Politics.co.uk - The Lying Game - a disturbing pattern of deceit in Westrminster


: The Freedom of Information Request :

The government's response to a freedom of information request is interesting:


See the answer to Q410 here (14th December 2016) - Mr Davis refers to "57 studies"

: The Written Statement 7th November :


Following the Opposition Day debate motion on 1 November, the Government is making arrangements to respond to the motion which called on the Government to provide the Committee on Exiting the European Union with “impact assessments arising from” the sectoral analysis it has conducted with regards to the list of 58 sectors referred to in the answer of 26 June 2017 to Question 239.

As the Government has already made clear, it is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist. During the Opposition Day debate the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State told the House "there has been some misunderstanding about what this sectoral analysis actually is. It is not a series of 58 impact assessments." I made the same point during my appearance before the House of Lords EU Committee on 31 October and to the House at DEXEU oral questions on 2 November.

The sectoral analysis is a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum. It examines the nature of activity in the sectors, how trade is conducted with the EU currently in these sectors and, in many cases, considers the alternatives following the UK’s exit from the EU as well as considering existing precedents. The analysis ranges from the very high level overarching analysis to sometimes much more granular level analysis of certain product lines in specific sectors. The analysis in this area is constantly evolving and being updated based on our regular discussions with industry and our negotiations with the EU. It is not, nor has it ever been, a series of discrete impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of Brexit on these sectors.

Given the above, it will take the department, working with other departments, time to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative for the Committee. The Government is committed to providing the information to the Committee as soon as is possible. I have made plain to the House authorities that we currently expect this to be no more than three weeks.

As ministers made clear during the Opposition Day debate on this motion, there are a number of reasons why the Government believes that it would not be in the public interest for elements of the analysis, at least, to be released into the public domain.

The House of Commons has itself recognised that while ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, the Government also has an obligation to consider where it would not be in the public interest for material to be published.

Furthermore, it is important to recognise in some cases there may be confidential or commercially sensitive information in this analysis, and that in many cases this analysis has been developed to underpin advice to ministers of the negotiation options in various scenarios. It is well understood (as was the case under successive administrations) that such advice to ministers must remain private.

I have written to the Chair of the Committee on Exiting the European Union to set out the Government’s position as outlined above. I will also be meeting the Chair to discuss these issues further on 13 November.

No comments:

Post a comment