Government to release leaked Brexit documents if MPs ask

PUBLISHED: 14:09 31 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:27 31 January 2018

Prime minister Theresa May

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Leaked government documents which indicate that any outcome from Brexit would be negative for the UK economy will be released if the Commons insists on it, Downing Street has said.

The move is in stark contrast to comments made en route to China by prime minister Theresa May who said making the analysis public before it was fully completed would be "wrong".

The climbdown came as the government faced possible defeat over an opposition motion demanding the documents be released.

Downing Street also said that justice minister Phillip Lee had been called in by the chief whip after he tweeted that if the figures in the leaked assessment are "anywhere near right" there should be a "serious question" about the government's approach to Brexit.

Brexit minister Robin Walker confirmed the government would not be opposing the motion although insisted the document was preliminary, "unfinished" and there were aspects of it which "remain negotiation sensitive and should not be put in the public domain".

Mr Walker told MPs: "We will provide the analysis to the select committee for Exiting the European Union and all members on a strictly confidential basis.

"This means we'll provide a hard copy of the analysis to the chair of the EU select committee and a confidential reading room will be available to all members and peers to see a copy of this analysis once those arrangements can be made."

Mr Walker said the document contained a "large number of caveats", adding it was "not yet anywhere near being approved" by ministers.

He went on: "It wouldn't be right to describe these as government numbers since they have not had formal government approval or sign-off as most analysis or policy would.

"The primary purpose of analysis at this stage was a preliminary attempt to improve on the much-criticised analysis published around the time of the EU referendum."

Former chancellor Ken Clarke welcomed the "common sense decision" to stop trying to withhold the documents.

But Mr Walker said having an incomplete analysis in the public domain "would not serve the national interest" in the upcoming negotiations.

Praising the "hard work of our officials", he added: "If every time any element of their work leaks we are forced to present unfinished work to the scrutiny of Parliament, the public and press, there is a very real chance that the quality of that work would suffer."

He said it would not be conducive for the process of "open, honest" policy-making on any topic for any government, adding: "I urge the select committee... to provide some assurances in good faith that for these reasons, and reflecting on the words of the motion which recognise the confidential nature of this document, that this preliminary analysis will not be made public."

Conservative former minister and hardline Brexiteer John Redwood, intervening, claimed there was no reason to think there would be "any hit" to the UK's long-term growth rate as a result of Brexit.

He said the Treasury published "very clear and totally wrong short-term" and "very clear and equally wrong long-term" forecasts for the referendum.

Mr Redwood said: "This latest lot of leaks look very like the wrong long-term forecasts that the Treasury previously did and I look forward to the minister getting some more common sense into the thing as there's absolutely no reason to suppose there'll be any hit to the long-term growth rate to the UK from leaving the EU at all."

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