MPs could debate David Davis being in contempt of Parliament over ‘secret’ Brexit studies, hints John Bercow

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Commons Speaker John Bercow has hinted MPs could get the chance to debate whether David Davis acted in contempt of Parliament over the publication of reports detailing the impact of Brexit on the economy. 

It comes after the Brexit Secretary provided an 850-page dossier of information on the impact of leaving the European Union on 58 different sectors of the economy – but the papers do not contain sensitive information. 

Mr Davis had been forced to release the information to the Brexit Select Committee in Westminster following a binding motion in the chamber. 

But the committee’s chair Hilary Benn said Mr Davis’s decision to withhold information from the material supplied to MPs was “both contrary to the instruction given to the Government in that motion and to the clear expectations that I set out to you in our discussions”. 

He added that the analysis provided to him on Monday was “not in keeping” with the motion passed by the house, later adding:  “The committee will therefore need to consider whether this is potentially a breach of privilege.” 

Speaking ahead of an urgent question from the Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Bercow said now was not the time to debate whether a contempt of the House had occurred, but added “there may or may not be later occasions for that matter to be discussed”. 

Mr Bercow said the Brexit Secretary should appear before the select committee “very soon indeed”. And he said that, if formal allegations of contempt are made, “I will do my duty”.

“I think that. when it is suggested that that meeting should be soon, it means soon – it does not mean weeks hence, it means very soon indeed,” Mr Bercow said.

“Nothing, no commitment, 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.

“That is where the matter rests. 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.”

Sir Keir added: “Whether he is in contempt of Parliament is a matter we will come to at a later date, but he is certainly treating Parliament with contempt.”

A string of Conservative MPs, including Ken Clarke, Jacob-Rees Mogg, and Christopher Chope, also said if the Government wanted to retract information from the documents then it must propose a new motion explicitly saying so. 

Robin Walker, the Brexit minister who was standing in for Mr Davis in the Commons, said the Government would consider the proposal and made clear the documents – already provided to the Brexit committee in Westminster – will be made available for all MPs in a special reading room. 

Prominent Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, a member of the Exiting the EU Select Committee, urged the Government to release all the information or seek a new vote in the House of Commons.

He said: “To meet this motion it is not at the discretion of the Government to decide what to take out. It is now at the discretion of the select committee.

“I therefore urge the Government either to meet the terms of the motion in full or to seek to put down a new motion.”

Mr Clarke said: “If the Government wished to resist the publication of the papers it had it should have voted against the motion, and if it wished to qualify or to edit the papers that it had it should have sought to amend the motion.

”We cannot allow post-Brexit to start reducing parliamentary sovereignty to a slightly ridiculous level. Would the minister at least consider the possibility of sharing at least with the chairman of the Brexit select committee the papers in the original form they were in when we had our vote before this editing process started?“

Brexit minister Robin Walker responded: “The problem with the motion that was passed is it referred to sectoral impact analysis.

“We were clear from the start that the motion did not exist in the form that was requested, therefore what we have done is to pull together sectoral analysis for the select committee and its scrutiny and I think that will prove valuable.”