Failing Brexit Secretary David Davis must stand before the Commons Brexit committee and explain why he – and the Conservative government – have treated Parliament with contempt. As the committee meets tomorrow, we shouldn’t have long to wait.
That is the ruling of Commons Speaker John Bercow after an Urgent Question by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, who demanded to know why 58 so-called Brexit “impact assessments” were delivered to the Commons Brexit committee, heavily edited – with vital information missing from their contents.
Mr Starmer made it clear that the motion had demanded “not some of the reports, not redacted copies, the full reports”.
Referring to Mr Davis, he said: “Whether he is in contempt of parliament is a matter we may have to come to. He is certainly treating parliament with contempt.”
The SNP’s Pete Wishart said he wanted to refresh his call for contempt proceedings to begin.
While not going as far as to say that contempt had been committed, Mr Bercow invited Mr Wishart to resubmit his letter in light of developments, and said he would consider it in a timely way. He said he would advise an “urgent audience” between the committee and the Brexit secretary.
“I think when it is suggested that that meeting should be soon, it means soon, not weeks hence. It means very soon indeed. No other diarised engagement is more important than respecting the house, and in this case the committee of the house, which has ownership of this matter and to which the papers were to be provided,” said Bercow.
“As and when matters evolve, if a further representation alleging contempt is made to me I will consider it very promptly and come back to the house. I hope the house knows me well enough to know that I will do my duty.”
The next meeting of the Brexit committee is tomorrow (November 29). Do you think Mr Davis will turn up?
The controversy flared up yesterday (November 27), when the Department for Exiting the European Union delivered the 58 impact assessments – not in full, as required by a binding Parliamentary vote, but incomplete. They have been redacted, we are told, in order not to include commercially sensitive information:
Standby for a big row – David Davis has written to DEXEEU committee admitting reports they're being given aren't complete and don't contain anything that might be commercially sensitive – so after all the fuss in the Commons, MPs aren't being given the full picture
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) November 27, 2017
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer made it clear that this is not acceptable. The Parliamentary vote was for the full reports to be delivered to the committee. It would then be for committee members to decide which parts should be edited out before the public was allowed to see them – the intention being to ensure that Conservative government ministers could not hide facts they simply deem inconvenient to themselves.
Not good enough. The vote was clear & binding. Reports in full should be handed over. We intend to press this issue. https://t.co/g15JIKodSv
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) November 27, 2017
Mr Starmer expanded on his tweet as follows:
— Shadow Brexit Team (@ShadowBrexit) November 27, 2017
For those who are unable to read images, he said: “Parliament was very clear in its instruction to ministers. All 58 impact assessments should have been shared with the select committee in full, without redaction and unedited.
“If the Government has failed to comply with this ruling then we will not hesitate in raising this matter with the Speaker.”
Raising it with the Speaker implies action against the government for contempt of Parliament. This is really a last resort, because it would be better, strategically, to have the full documents and see what the Tories are trying so hard to hide.
But the Tories are backed against a wall – a contempt ruling will bring their ability to govern properly into question, and we all know that they can’t. Meanwhile, voices of dissent are proliferating:
This stinks of a cover-up, pure and simple. Ministers don’t want the public to know the facts on the impact of Brexit. This has less to do with any supposed undermining of negotiations and everything to do with pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Totally and utterly unacceptable https://t.co/5w8k6atRQC
— ChukaUmunna (@ChukaUmunna) November 27, 2017
They were to be handed over without redaction or qualification. I have written to the Chair of the Select Committee and if he is not satisfied I will continue to pursue, through the Speaker 'Contempt of the House' proceedings. https://t.co/jFY3N6XC2T
— Pete Wishart (@PeteWishart) November 27, 2017
The only real question on the 58 #brexit reports is whether Davis is trying to conceal the fact that they were never done (or done properly) or the fact that they reveal catastrophic outcomes across UK industry & services. https://t.co/iYuSYgaxBx
— Jim Campbell — Socially Distant Since 2009 (@CampbellLetters) November 28, 2017
Some have already decided the government is in contempt of Parliament – like Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, according to Political Scrapbook:
But this isn’t the only controversy around Brexit at the moment.
We know about “the bundle of deceitful promises for which people voted, of which the most flagrant and often quoted was the £350m for the NHS”.
We know about the Electoral Commission’s investigation into “whether donations and loans from Brexit campaigner Arron Banks and one of his companies broke campaign finance rules in the run-up to the EU referendum”.
And we know that supporters of Brexit have been reduced to posting fake news about it on the social media. Oh – you didn’t know about that? Here‘s a story about Tory MP Richard Graham, who posted a whopper about Mars relocating from Brussels to London. The claim is, of course, completely fake.
What about concerns that Russia tried to influence the result of the original EU referendum? Here‘s Left Foot Forward‘s view.
The issue may become clearer now that Facebook and Twitter have agreed to share data with the Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on troll accounts used by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency. Further information is available here and any information suggesting Russia seriously influenced the result could help trigger an annulment of the referendum result.
Of course, it might be hard to get a significant proportion of the population to accept an annulment, for one sad reason: Prejudice.
The New Statesman is more optimistic, though: That magazine reckons Brexit can certainly be stopped – but the wrong people are leading the campaign to do so, and this is harming it.
Negotiations are continuing, even while all of the above is taking place – but even this aspect of the Brexit fiasco is falling apart, because it has become crystal-clear that the Conservative government, having forced a vote in the knowledge that it might result in the UK’s departure from the EU, simply doesn’t know what it wants.
What a ridiculous situation. The sooner we get out of this whole pointless process, the better.
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