David Davis addresses the House of Commons Brexit committee on Wednesday © PA
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David Davis, the UK’s Brexit secretary, has been accused of misleading parliament after he confirmed that the government had not carried out “impact assessments” on how Brexit will affect the UK economy.
Instead, Mr Davis said the government had produced a “sectoral analysis” of some industries without forecasting possible outcomes after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.
“There’s no sort of systemic impact assessment I’m aware of,” he said, adding that the usefulness of such an exercise would be “near zero” given the “paradigm shift” that Brexit represents. He pointed out that all forecasts produced ahead of the financial crash had been worthless.
But critics said his statements to the House of Commons Brexit committee appear to “directly contradict” what he and other ministers have previously said. “This is pretty serious,” said Joanna Cherry, a Scottish National party MP on the Brexit committee
“Whether it is through incompetence or insincerity, David Davis has been misleading parliament from the start,” said Wera Hobhouse, a Liberal Democrat MP who is also on the Brexit committee.
While Mr Davis was being grilled by the committee, Theresa May, prime minister, spoke on the phone to Arlene Foster, leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party.
Early reports said that Mrs May’s conversation had failed to break the current deadlock in Brexit talks over the Irish border. The Sun quoted a DUP source as saying there was “no deal this week”, raising doubts about whether Mrs May will return to Brussels as planned before the weekend to finalise a divorce deal with EU negotiators.
Those concerns pushed the pound lower on Wednesday morning, with sterling down as much as 0.6 per cent to $1.3366.
Mr Davis’ department has insisted for several weeks, following the release of its “sectoral analyses” to the Brexit committee in October, that they were not formal “impact assessment studies”. MPs scrutinising the 850-page document have said most of the information is already in the public domain.
But earlier in the year, ministers did not quash the idea that those technical studies did exist. As recently as October, Mr Davis told MPs that sectoral reports existed in “excruciating detail”.
Mr Davis explained that: “Just because you use the word impact doesn’t make it an impact assessment.”
Asked why he had failed to clarify the difference months ago, he said he had always used the phrase “sectoral analysis” — but accepted that he should have corrected MPs earlier.
Seema Malhotra, a Labour member of the committee, said that Dexeu had initially refused to publish the reports because officials needed a “safe space” to develop policy. “They delayed in handing them over, then apparently they didn’t exist and now haven’t even started, incredible,” she said.
Mr Davis admitted that he had not read the entire 850 pages of material handed to the committee because he would not have had the time. The information was “boring but important” and contained about 50 years of Whitehall man-time, he said.
Meanwhile Mr Davis disclosed that he had asked last year for Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, to become a privy counsellor, giving him access to certain information on the talks. He offered to talk to committee members who were privy counsellors on the same terms.
What the Brexit department said
December 14, 2016
“We are in the midst of carrying out about 57 sets of analyses, each of which has implications for individual parts of 85 per cent of the economy. Some of those are still to be concluded.” David Davis
May 23, 2017
“Dexeu has conducted analysis of over 50 sectors of the economy. We have also travelled up and down the country to listen to the hopes and concerns of businesses.” David Jones, former Brexit minister
June 25, 2017
“No, no, I’m being very clear about this. In my job I don’t think out loud and I don’t make guesses. [ . . .] I try and make decisions. You make those based on the data. That data’s being gathered, we’ve got 50, nearly 60 sector analyses already done, we’ve got planning work going on in the customs, we’ve got planning work going on 22 other issues which are critical, 127 all told.” David Davis
October 27, 2017
“She’ll [Theresa May] know the summary outcomes of them. She won’t necessarily have read every single one, they are in excruciating detail.” David Davis
November 7, 2017
“It is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist. During the opposition day debate the parliamentary under secretary of state told the house ‘there has been some misunderstanding about what this sectoral analysis actually is. It is not a series of 58 impact assessments.’ I made the same point during my appearance before the House of Lords EU committee on 31 October and to the house at Dexeu oral questions on 2 November.” David Davis
November 11, 2017
“It is not, nor has it ever been, a series of impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of Brexit on these sectors [ . . .] We will provide this information to the committee as soon as is possible. We have made clear to the House authorities that we currently expect this to be no more than three weeks.” Steve Baker, Brexit minister