The Speaker of the House of Commons, has set the government a deadline of Tuesday evening to publish the Brexit assessments demanded by parliament – or explain why it has not done so.
MPs voted unanimously last Wednesday to call on David Davis’s department to release its studies of the impact of Brexit on various sectors of the UK economy, after he published a list of the 58 sectors covered.
Asked by the shadow Brexit minister, Matthew Pennycook, on Monday whether the government was treating the vote with “the respect and seriousness it requires”, Bercow said it should comply “very promptly indeed”.
He added: “Failing that, I expect ministers to explain to the house before we rise tomorrow evening why they have not and when they intend to do so.”
Pennycook raised the issue as a point of order in the Commons, after Davis wrote to the chair of the Brexit select committee, Hilary Benn, on Monday, insisting that the studies do not exist as 58 separate documents.
“As we have made clear, it is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist,” Davis said. Instead, he said, civil servants had carried out “a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum”, and it would take time to prepare them for publication.
He added: “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 my department – and other departments, since this work draws on inputs from across government – time to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative for the committee,” he said.
Labour has been ramping up the pressure on the government to publish its economic assessments.
While normal opposition motions are advisory, the shadow Brexit secretary presented last week’s as a “humble address”, a rare and antiquated procedure which Bercow advised was usually binding.
The leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said on Thursday that the government accepted the motion as binding, and that the information would be forthcoming.
However, she gave no timescale – the government has previously said it would respond to opposition motions within 12 weeks – and indicated some elements of the papers would need to be redacted to avoid “disclosing information that could harm the national interest”.
The Labour motion called for the papers to be released immediately to the Brexitselect committee, which has a majority of Conservative MPs, and which would then decide which elements should not be published more widely.