1:30 John Bercow: David Davis's handling of Brexit Impact Papers 'regrettable' – video
John Bercow: David Davis's handling of Brexit Impact Papers 'regrettable' – video
Davis rebuked over Brexit impact papers but not held in contempt
Speaker criticises Brexit secretary for being unclear with MPs about assessment papers that turned out not to exist
David Davis has escaped the possibility of being held in contempt of parliament over the non-existence of Brexit impact assessment papers, but was criticised by the Speaker, John Bercow, for being unclear to MPs when he discussed the matter.
Bercow, giving a rare public rebuke to a minister, also told the Commons it was “most regrettable” that Davis had taken so long to hand papers over to the Brexit select committee, and that he had redacted information from them.
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The ruling follows complaints to the Speaker by Labour’s Chuka Umunna and others that Davis was in contempt over a Commons opposition motion passed on 1 November that called for the Brexit impact assessments to be released.
After the motion there was a long delay in passing any papers to the Brexit select committee, and when they arrived some MPs complained they were mainly background notes culled from public sources.
Then last week Davis told the select committee that there were in fact no studies forecasting the actual impact of Brexit on various sections of the economy, despite having talked previously about the existence of 58 papers containing “excruciating detail”.
1:53 David Davis says Brexit impact papers don’t actually exist – video
David Davis says Brexit impact papers don’t actually exist – video
Addressing MPs on Thursday Bercow said “several” members had alleged contempt by Davis and other ministers over the fate of the impact assessments, and that he had discussed the matter with the clerk of the Commons.
Bercow said: “Ministers could, with advantage, have been considerably clearer in their statements, particularly challenging lines of questioning in select committees, which were based upon a genuine misconception.
“However, from the evidence which I have seen to date I have concluded that the test that I am bound to apply, that there is an arguable case that there has in this matter been a contempt of the house, has not been met in this case.”
Bercow said other MPs had written to him to seek a ruling on whether Davis was in contempt of the 1 November motion by not handing over actual impact assessments.
He again rebuked Davis, but noted that the Brexit select committee had last week voted to not seek a contempt motion against him.
The Speaker said: “While it was most regrettable that the secretary of state – a point I made to him privately but I now state publicly – unilaterally excised some material from the paper which he provided, and that it took so long to provide the papers, I also feel bound to pay due attention to the formally recorded view of the committee that the secretary of state had complied with the order of 1 November.”
A contempt of parliament had again not taken place, Bercow said.
Davis was also criticised outside Westminster. The Institute for Government thinktank said he had “shown contempt for the principle of making decisions based on thorough evidence and analysis”.
Bronwen Maddox, the institute’s director, said: “David Davis said to the Commons committee on exiting the EU that the government had not undertaken formal impact assessments of Brexit.
“This not only appeared to contradict previous ministerial assertions but also showed a disregard for the principle of making decisions based on thorough evidence and analysis.”
The Liberal Democrat chief whip, Alistair Carmichael, said: “The lack of any meaningful government assessment of the effects of Brexit remains a scandal of historic proportions.”
MPs found in contempt of parliament can in theory be suspended, expelled or even detained in the parliamentary clock tower – though the latter punishment has not been used for well over a century.
House of Commons
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