Brexit impact assessments: Government wants “safe space” from scrutiny

In withholding the reports from the public and MPs, it seems the government wants a “safe space” to make decisions without scrutiny.

The government has again refused to publish the Brexit impact assessments it has commissioned on 58 sectors of the economy. Responding to a Freedom of Information request from Labour MP Seema Malhotra, the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) said:

“There is a strong public interest in policy-making associated with our exit from the EU being of the highest quality and conducted in a safe space to allow for design and deliberation to be done in private”. The government adds that not having this “safe space” could lead to “poorer decision making.”

“Without the necessary safe space for unreserved instruction in commissioning briefs, the quality of the eventual advice from the respective exercise would be diminished and would in turn lead to poorer decision making.”

Department for Exiting the EU

The statement suggests the government wants a “safe space” from public scrutiny. In its editorial, the Evening Standard writes this stance cannot hold. For one thing, the newspaper argues it “makes a mockery” of the argument that Brexit would give the public more democratic scrutiny. Instead, it seems the government want to be able to make decisions without any scrutiny – not from the public and not from Parliament.

The position also can’t hold because the government’s Brexit policy will need the support of Parliament to go through. The government may hope to get support for their policy based simply on their say so but we have to hope that both MPs and peers will demand to see the evidence to support it.

The government has already promised Parliament will have a vote on any deal reached in negotiations before it is concluded. However, the government maintains this vote would be on a “take it or leave it” basis. Yet, The Times reports the government will concede the Withdrawal Agreement needs an act of parliament. This would cover withdrawal issues including citizens’ rights and may also cover any transition arrangements. As The Times suggests in its report, the requirement for Parliament to approve this with legislation provides MPs an opportunity to amend it. This also makes Brexit secretary David Davis’ comments that MPs may not get a vote until after the UK’s withdrawal even more inconceivable.

In the Financial Times, Jim Packard has also done a good write-up of the story. In it, he includes comments David Davis made as a backbench MP in 2015 on freedom of information:

Time and time again, information is withheld from the public for no good reason other than to spare the blushes of the powerful.”

David Davis MP

It’s interesting that now Davis is in a position of power, he seems to have changed his tune.

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