The SNP’s Pete Wishart was probably only the first to make this demand – or whose letter has come into the public domain. He is to be praised for it, either way.
Mr Wishart has seen through the dissembling statement made to the House of Commons on November 7 by Steve Baker, Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
Mr Baker said the documents assessing the impact of Brexit on nearly 60 sectors of the UK economy do not exist in the form expected by MPs, and it will take three weeks to prepare the information and hand it over to the Commons Brexit committee.
His statement has been followed by rumours that the assessments – once claimed to cover their subject in “excruciating detail” by Brexit Secretary David Davis – might not actually exist at all.
DD, 13 days ago, Dexeu Committee:
“Of the 57” sectoral impact assessments “They are in excruciating detail”
Today: “not the case they exist” pic.twitter.com/SqqJzta9Hw
— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) November 7, 2017
In that case, Mr Davis will have lied to Parliament in breach of the Ministerial Code, and should be required to tender his resignation – as Priti Patel has, for a separate breach.
Mr Wishart has written a letter to Commons Speaker John Bercow, cutting through all that. It simply points out that the Commons voted for the documents to be provided to the Brexit committee without delay for any reason, and suggests that its failure to provide the documents means the government should be held in contempt of Parliament.
Mr Wishart wrote: “I believe the Government’s delay in publication – and its statement of intent rather than providing absolute certainty – contravenes the requirements of the motion and the will of the House, and therefore represents a contempt as it obstructs and impedes our ability as Members of Parliament to discharge the duties that we were elected to perform.
“Therefore… I am writing to request that you consider giving precedence to a motion that the Government has held this House in contempt. If such a motion was to be placed before the House, I believe it should also include an instruction for the Government to publish the relevant papers either immediately or by a specified date.”
He continued: “The publication of these documents is related to the greatest economic and political change of the past 50 years. The Government have a responsibility to respect the binding motion agreed by this House, and publish the papers. As it has not done so, I believe the House should be given the opportunity to decide whether it has been held in contempt.
He does not pass comment on what should happen if Theresa May’s government is found in contempt and still fails to deliver the documents.
It is possible that Mr Bercow will rule that the government is doing its duty by saying it intends to provide the papers in around three weeks – but that seems unlikely to This Writer.
The Speaker said on November 1, the day the Commons agreed to demand the assessments, that any delay in publication would be “a most material consideration” in any deliberations he could be asked to make on whether contempt had taken place. And Parliament is facing a delay in publication.
Theresa May – and David Davis in particular – is between a rock and a hard place.
Either they cough up the documents on a timescale dictated by Parliament, or they face being found in contempt.
If it turns out that the assessments do not exist in the “excruciating detail” that David Davis described, he could face demands for his resignation.
And what happens to the government?
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