By Seema Malhotra MP
AFTER a long and arduous campaign, in which the Brexit secretary David Davis had to be dragged kicking and screaming into releasing his department’s “impact assessments”, it was just before Christmas that the reports were finally been published by the select committee for exiting the European Union.
A series of letters exchanged between Hilary Benn MP, the chair of the select committee on which I sit, and David Davis shows the government playing games and delaying right to the very end. It finally admitted that it had not shared in the papers released any “negotiation sensitive or commercially sensitive” information – its final reason for delay which pushed publication to the last parliamentary working day before Christmas was that some of the statistics were out of date and would need amending.
Anyone reading the released material will, I’m sure, be asking themselves: is this it?
Over months of questioning, David Davis repeatedly suggested his department had conducted detailed reports that included forecasting data of what impact different models of Brexit would have. And yet the material, while useful in providing an overview of sectors in the UK economy and their relationship with the EU, contains no assessment of what impact Brexit will have on different sectors of the economy. It seems to mainly consist of publicly available information that anyone could have found on Wikipedia and university desk research. One section in the Aerospace report spends a paragraph describing the three parts that go into making up an aircraft. I’m not exaggerating about that.
It remains unclear whether these reports were actually something the Brexit department had already compiled before it was forced to release them, or whether they were cobbled together at the last minute to comply with parliament’s instruction that the information be handed over immediately.
It is not helpful to get into a fruitless semantic argument about what an “impact assessment” is versus a “sectoral analysis”, when the key point is the purpose of this all. The government knows what a sectoral analysis and an impact assessment is – it does hundreds for all sorts of issues across different departments. A quick search of the government website reveals impact assessments into things like public transport ticketing schemes, the higher education and research bill, apprenticeship reforms, budget changes… the list goes on.
When it comes to Brexit – the biggest set of changes to our country for generations – the same rules appear not to apply and the whole approach has now become very cavalier. The much more important point is: the Brexit secretary now says his department hasn’t conducted any research into what effect different Brexit outcomes will have on different parts of the UK economy. If that is the case, it is nothing short of a dereliction of duty.
We’re talking about real people’s jobs – and in my constituency, with a dependency on Heathrow for a huge part of our economy, and much of the workforce from the South Asian community – any slowdown could hit the well-being of local Asian families hard. For example, we have heard that if we don’t have a deal on aviation by March when next year’s flight timetable is developed, we don’t know which planes will be able to fly from the UK to the EU mainland. In the absence of certainty, companies will make alternative plans. It’s simply not good enough for the government and the Brexit secretary to pretend they have dealt with this issue.
It is critical that the debate on the UK’s future relationship with the EU is led by evidence and that parliament and the public are not kept in the dark. People have a right to know how Brexit is going to affect their jobs, their careers and their livelihoods. And they have the right to hold the government to account for whether Brexit is going to make our nation more prosperous or less.
A much more open and honest debate about the risks and how we handle them, and about costs as well as any expected benefits from Brexit, is set to be demanded by parliament over 2018. If the government wants a deal supported by both Houses in place by the end of the year, it would be wise to show it has listened.