The Brexit department has refused to release key details about the 58 secret studies into how leaving the EU will impact the economy, saying officials need to make policy in a “safe space”.
Seema Malhotra, a Labour MP on the Brexit committee, had asked to know the scope, terms of reference and state of completion of the work on 58 sectors of the economy, but the department refused to release the details under freedom of information laws.
“There is a strong public interest in policy-making associated with our exit from the EU being of the highest quality and conducted in a safe space to allow for design and deliberation to be done in private,” the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) said.
“In this case, releasing the commissioning document for this exercise, which is still a live policy issue, may undermine the effective formulation or development of policies which are key to our negotiating strategy.
“Disclosure would similarly set a precedent that would inhibit free and frank discussion in the future. Without the necessary safe space for unreserved instruction in commissioning briefs, the quality of the eventual advice from the respective exercise would be diminished and would in turn lead to poorer decision making.”
The government did release a list of which sectors were covered by the studies. The list, ranging from advertising, aerospace and agriculture to telecommunications, textiles and tourism, covers almost 90% of the economy.
But Malhotra said the lack of transparency remained a key concern, with less than 18 months to go before Brexit is due to take place at the end of March 2019.
“The government’s reference to needing to conduct Brexit policy-making in a ‘safe place to allow for design and deliberation to be done in private’ seems to be more about keeping parliament and the public in the dark,” she said.
“Parliament is not here to give the government a blank cheque on Brexit, but to assist in achieving the best deal for our economy and society.”
The government’s refusal to make public more details about its impact studies comes as Theresa May’s cabinet prepares for a discussion on the next stage of the Brexit process on Tuesday morning.
The meeting will cover the prime minister’s hopes for progress on a trade agreement as well as preparations for a “no deal” scenario if talks with Brussels break down.