Ministers could trigger new vote to avoid full release of secret Brexit papers

PUBLISHED: 14:54 28 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:55 28 November 2017

Commons speaker John Brecow

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Ministers could trigger a new Commons vote to rule out having to release their secret papers on the economic impact of Brexit in full.

Brexit minister Robin Walker today faced repeated demands from Conservative MPs to develop a revised motion guaranteeing that commercial, market and negotiation-sensitive information would be excluded from material given to the Exiting the European Union Committee.

Mr Walker told former Tory minister Christopher Chope that the Government "will certainly look into" his proposal, also noting similar suggestions from other backbenchers would be taken "very seriously".

Brexit secretary David Davis has provided an 850-page dossier of information to the select committee outlining the economic impact on 58 different sectors of the economy following a binding vote earlier this month in the Commons.

But sensitive information has been withheld, prompting former cabinet minister and arch-Remainer Ken Clarke to accuse the government of reducing parliamentary sovereignty to a "ridiculous level".

Labour's Hilary Benn, who chairs the Exiting the EU Committee, also criticised the government after ministers argued the full papers were not handed over as assurances of confidentiality were not given.

Mr Benn said he objected to "any suggestion" that he or the committee could "not be trusted" to handle the papers.

But former Tory cabinet minister John Whittingdale, who has previously chaired a select committee, said "leaks are not without precedent" and urged the government not to share any information that would "undermine the negotiating position" if it became public.

After Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) raised the idea of a new motion, Mr Chope said: "I think most people would accept it's perfectly reasonable to exclude commercial, market and negotiation-sensitive information, but unfortunately that was not expressly excluded in the terms of the humble address on November 1.

"So will [Mr Walker] look carefully at the option of the Government bringing forward a revised motion expressly excluding that information from the material to be supplied to the select committee?"

Richard Graham (Gloucester), a Conservative member of the Exiting the European Union Committee, said: "I believe it is now strongly in the Government's interest to put forward a motion to amend the humble address, which many of us in this House would strongly support."

Mr Walker replied: "It is certainly something to which we will be giving due consideration."

Philip Hollobone, Tory MP for Kettering, said it was a "mistake" by the Government not to amend the original motion.

He said: "As a result, the government is now skating on very thin parliamentary ice. The issue can be solved next week if the government was to come back with a sensible motion which every member in this House really ought to support."

Tory Peter Bone (Wellingborough), in a point of order, asked if there was any technical reason why a new motion could not be moved by the government.

Speaker John Bercow replied: "No, it's possible. We shall see what happens."

Mr Clarke, speaking earlier during an urgent question on the issue, told the Commons: "If the Government wished to resist the publication of the papers it had it should have voted against the motion, and if it wished to qualify or to edit the papers that it had it should have sought to amend the motion.

"We cannot allow post-Brexit to start reducing parliamentary sovereignty to a slightly ridiculous level."

Mr Benn told ministers the analysis provided to the committee was "not in keeping" with the original motion passed by the House.

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