Brexit impact report: MPs’ point of view

The Department for Exiting the European Union has found itself in a pickle thanks to a stash of documents that government sources claim don’t really exist. The opposition parties are indignant that they have not been given the full version of the documents that the government claims didn’t exist in the first place.
And they are intent on pushing them back to parliament to force them to give more information about the things that don’t exist, or do exist… This is because tonight, the one thing that we can be sure of is that there is a cache of hundreds of pages of documents sitting in a safe somewhere in Westminster.
Lots of MPs are cross and the government, which already has its plate more than full, has just failed to close down a brouhaha that has already been going on for months.
So what on earth is actually going on? With a little bit of artistic licence, this is roughly and broadly what has happened – although given the above cocktail of Kafka and The Thick of It, do forgive me if it is hard to source a completely straight or official account that all sides agree on.
The Brexit documents row isn’t going away. The EU-exit papers and the economics of Brexit Having been caught by surprise by the referendum, Whitehall found itself with no plans for how to manage the exit from the EU.
By political instruction, there had been no preparation for that outcome – nada, zip, nothing – for potentially the biggest change to the country in decades.
Scrabbling to, quite understandably, look like they knew what they were doing, with a completely changed government (including two new government departments), the most important new kid on the block – the Department for Exiting the European Union – moved to assure people.
They wanted them to know that they were planning on a well thought through basis, taking the proper soundings and taking an organised and analytical approach to the process.
Official sources close to David Davis at the time said that they were conducting analyses of more than 50 sectors of the economy or “don’t worry, we’re doing all the proper research you’d imagine.”
The Brexit Secretary himself said as much to a committee of MPs in December last year, saying: “We’ve carried out or are in the midst of carrying out about 57, I think, sectoral analyses, each of which has implications for individual parts of 85% of the economy, and some of those are still to be concluded.
“We have work still to be done on justice and home affairs, so there is a fair number of things still to do. So it will be as soon as we’re ready.”
It was no surprise, given this is the most contentious issue of our times, that MPs started to ask again and again for those studies to be published.
Where were they? What were they? Were they ‘secret reports’?
The government played for time to complete this extremely serious and detailed work – just wait, it will all become clear.
Eventually, however (and this is the short version – you’ll thank me, honest), MPs, the Labour front bench and the influential Brexit Committee, chaired by former Labour minister, Hilary Benn, had had enough.
MPs, including Tories, Brexiteers and Remainers, joined in the calls for the reports to be published and eventually last month they forced a vote in the Commons that defeated the government.
Parliament gave that day its instruction to them to stop pussyfooting around and publish the mysterious studies.
There were whispers too that the government whips had been told by DEXEU that the vote wasn’t that big a deal and had told MPs that they could go home before the vote. But that’s another miscalculation, and another story.