Government accused of using NDAs to hide Brexit no-deal planning
The government has been accused by the Liberal Democrats of hiding its planning for a no-deal Brexit.
Lib Dems say the use of secretive non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with transport companies is hampering businesses' efforts to prepare for no deal.
It comes after a report by a powerful House of Commons committee said major disruption at British ports was a "real prospect" if the UK exited the EU without an agreement.
The Public Accounts Committee accused the Department for Transport of having a "complacent" approach to preparations, adding that time was running out to fix it.
The report said: "Too much consultation with business organisations has taken place under the cloak of non-disclosure agreements, and this secrecy hampers the ability of the business community at large to prepare.
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"The department's engagement with the transport industry in developing technical notices has been covered by non-disclosure agreements and the department is unable to inform us of their scope.
"We see these agreements as undermining transparency and hampering the spread of information to the business community at large."
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Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the cross-party group of MPs, said: "The secrecy around the department's preparations, and the shortcomings in assurance on its progress, are a potentially toxic combination."
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran criticised the Tories for "refusing to provide information people need" after discovering 28 NDAs have been signed between the department and its stakeholders after writing to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
Moran, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "It is utterly irresponsible that Conservative ministers are leaving businesses and the public in the dark about the risks of delays and chaos at British ports if we leave the EU.
"To add insult to injury, the Department for Transport is being exceptionally secretive and has even signed 28 non-disclosure agreements with transport companies, meaning they can't discuss the government's contingencies for Brexit.
"If we see massive delays, tailbacks and lorry parks on motorways like the M20 leading to Dover, then within days we risk shortages of food and other essentials. This isn't acceptable."
In his reply to Moran, Grayling defended the practice, saying: "NDAs are also a common component of contractual arrangements that are used to protect commercial considerations of the parties involved or to protect sensitives around the development of government policy.
"It is entirely normal practice to use such agreements and they are therefore sometimes necessary for government departments that are responsible for managing their preparations for leaving the EU."
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