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In December 2016 David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, told the Exiting the EU Select Committee that the Government was “in the midst of carrying out about 57 sets of analyses” of the impact of Brexit on sectors which accounted for 85% of the UK economy.

These assessments became subject to Freedom of Information requests and interest from select committees but all attempts to access the information were turned down on the basis that publication would prejudice the interests of the UK overseas and the UK’s economic interests. The House of Commons had itself resolved in December 2016 that there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any withdrawal negotiations.

Then on 1 November 2017 the House of Commons resolved that the so-called “Brexit Impact Assessments” should be provided to the Exiting the EU Select Committee. The motion was tabled as a “motion for a return” by the Opposition. This device has not commonly been used by the House of Commons in modern times in such circumstances. Governments have used the device of a “motion for unopposed return” to publish information with the protection of Parliamentary privilege.

On 7 November the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU made a Written Statement stating that “it is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist”. Instead he explained that there was a “wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum” which would take time to collate. He also stated that there might be confidential and commercially sensitive information in the analysis, and that advice to ministers must remain private.

However, the Government agreed to comply with the resolution of the House and the documents were provided to the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee (the Committee) and the House of Lords European Union Committees on 27 November 2017. The Secretary of State wrote to the Committee stating that the Department had “sought not to include commercially, market or negotiation sensitive information.”

The Secretary of State appeared before the Exiting the EU Committee on 6 December 2017 to answer questions about the sectoral reports. Following the evidence session, the Committee took a vote and agreed that he was not in contempt for misleading the House of Commons and had complied with the terms of the resolution. Subsequently the Committee resolved to publish the reports made available to it.

On 29 January 2018 a paper, entitled EU Exit Analysis — Cross Whitehall Briefing, was leaked to the online news and entertainment company BuzzFeed. The paper looked at three existing trade arrangements to frame the possible economic impact: an EEA type arrangement, an FTA type arrangement, and a WTO scenario. Steve Baker, Parliamentary Under Secretary, said that the BuzzFeed article was a “selective interpretation of a preliminary analysis”, and “an attempt to undermine our exit from the European Union” The Opposition again tabled a motion for a return to have the analysis shared with Members and the Select Committees. Having resolved to publish the analysis, it was made available by the Committee on 8 March 2018, with one annex removed following a request from the Secretary of State.

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