Three-week delay for release of government's secret Brexit papers

PUBLISHED: 15:33 07 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:34 07 November 2017

Brexit minister Steve Baker

Brexit minister Steve Baker

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The government has announced there will be a delay of "no more than three weeks" in publishing its secret papers on the economic impact of Brexit.

Brexit minister Steve Baker told the Commons today that the Government would need time to release the studies despite being ordered by Speaker John Bercow to publish them immediately.

Mr Baker claimed there had been “some misunderstanding” about the studies which he said did not exist as 58 separate documents as previously reported.

And he appeared to accuse Labour MPs calling for immediate publication of treachery, asking them: "Whose side are they on?"

The government had sought to keep the studies, which outline the economic impact of Britain leaving the EU on 58 industries, secret, saying they would undermine negotiations.

But they were effectively forced into agreeing to their publication after an arcane parliamentary motion by Labour which Mr Bercow ruled to be binding.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Baker said the government needed to "bring together this information in a way that is accessible". They did not include "qualitative" analysis of the impact of Brexit on the economy, he insisted.

Opposition MPs attacked the minister and one Conservative, former minister and arch-Remainer Anna Soubry, accused him of "gross contempt" of Parliament.

Shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook, asking an urgent question, said: “This farce has dragged on for far too long.

“Ministers cannot use semantics and doublespeak to avoid the clear instruction this House has given. There can be no further delay.”

But Mr Baker said: “As the government has made clear, it is not the case that there are 58 sectoral impact assessments,” he said.

“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 inform our negotiating positions.

“The analysis examines the nature of activity in the sectors, how our trade is conducted with the EU currently, and in many cases considers the alternatives after we leave the EU as well as looking at other precedents.”

They were “constantly evolving and being updated”, he said.

“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 is possible.”

This would take no more than three weeks, he said.

Hillary Benn, chair of the Brexit Select Committee, said the reports should be released to him without delay unredacted and it "should be for the committee to decide in what form they are published".

But Mr Baker was backed by Conservative MPs, including the Brexit committee's deputy chairman, former Culture secretary John Whittingdale, who said he accepted Mr Baker's reasons for the delay.

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