David Davis is set to discuss the release of documents detailing the potential impact of leaving the EU on the UK economy with the chair of Parliament’s Brexit committee after a motion calling for them to be handed over to Parliament passed unopposed last night.
The Government has repeatedly dismissed previous appeals for the studies to be published, arguing that it risked undermining Britain’s position in negotiations with the EU.
However, Labour yesterday attempted to use an archaic Parliamentary procedure to force a “binding” vote on the issue, which the Government chose not to oppose.
There was some initial debate about the power this motion has to make ministers act, but Speaker of the House John Bercow last night implied that the Government could find itself in contempt of Parliament if it does not comply.
This morning, the Brexit minister Robin Walker revealed Mr Davis has already discussed this matter with Leeds MP Hilary Benn, and the pair will discuss it again in due course.
MPs from across the House have thrown their support behind Labour’s calls for the 58 studies to be released, including a number of high profile Conservative backbenchers.
Speakers yesterday included the Health select committee chairman Sarah Wollaston and the pro-Remain MP Anna Soubry, the latter of whom indicated she would be willing to join Labour in the division lobby if the motion was put to a vote.
Opposition day debates are not usually binding, and the Government has taken to ordering its MPs to abstain. But Labour argued the wording of yesterday’s motion was such that it gave the Commons the power to compel ministers to act.
Opening the debate, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer suggested that MPs would accept a redacted version of the reports if it meant the Government would be more willing to cooperate.
He argued a similar approach had been taken with documents relating to security, and it would be highly unusual if there was no room for flexibility in this instance.
In his response, Brexit Minister Robin Walker indicated that the Government would be wiling to “reflect” on the request – if the motion passed. “I take note of the points [Keir Starmer] made about looking at redaction and summary as an approach,” he added.
Early in the debate, the Deputy Speaker of the House, Eleanor Laing, would not be drawn on whether the motion was binding.
But rounding up, Speaker John Bercow stressed that motions of this kind have “traditionally been regarded as binding or effective”, adding that he could consider contempt of Parliament claims if the Government fails to release Brexit impact assessments.
Commenting on the outcome, Sir Keir described it as a “victory for Parliament”. “Labour has been absolutely clear since the referendum that ministers could not withhold vital information from Parliament about the impact of Brexit on jobs and the economy,” he said.
“It’s completely unacceptable for the Tories to have wasted months avoiding responsible scrutiny and trying to keep the public in the dark. The reality is that it should not have taken an ancient Parliamentary procedure to get ministers to listen to common sense.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake urged the Government not to redact the reports, adding: “Parliament has now made its position clear. Ministers need to publish these reports in full, not subject them to a Whitehall whitewash.”
A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU said: “We take all Parliamentary votes seriously and recognise that Parliament does have rights relating to the publication of documents. Ministers also have a clear obligation not to disclose information when doing so would not be in the public interest. We will reflect on the implications of the vote and respond in due course.”