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David Davis Pressured by MPs Over “Brexit Impact Assessments”

David Davis

With the debate over how to settle the Northern Irish border question still raging, Brexit Secretary David Davis is facing increasing pressure from a parliamentary committee to share DexEU analysis.

David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, came under renewed pressure from MPs on the “Exiting the EU Select Committee” Wednesday, to release a series of “impact assessments” covering the likely effect of Brexit on the various sectors of Britain’s economy.

Davis told the committee in December 2016 that the "Department for Exiting the EU" was carrying out “57 sets of analysis” covering the impact Brexit will have on sectors accounting for around 85% of UK economic output.

The committee, which is chaired by Hilary Benn of the Labour Party, asked in November to be provided with those analyses.

“It is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist...there are a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum,” Davis told the committee in November.

The documents in question have since been provided to the committee and to parliament, although any “information that was considered commercially or market sensitive, or potentially damaging to the negotiations was not included.”

Davis’ stated concerns are that if the full range of information held by his department were made available, it might be shared in a way where it could fall into the hands of Brussels negotiators, or otherwise be used to undermine the government’s negotiating position.

“These documents will be treated in the same way as other evidence received by Select Committees, under which it is up to the Committee to decide what to do with them, when to publish them and in what form,” the committee said Wednesday.

MPs have criticised Davis for failing to produce quantitative analyses covering the impact that Brexit might have on various segments of the economy, implying that this might have been irresponsible. Davis responded;

“You don’t need to do a formal impact assessment to understand that if there is a regulatory hurdle, that it will have an impact, an effect. The assessment of that effect is not as straightforward as people imagine.
I am not a fan of economic models as they have all been proven wrong. When you have a paradigm change as in 2008, all the models are wrong.
As we are dealing with here, a free trade agreement or a WTO outcome, it’s a paradigm change.”

The parliamentary scrap over the “impact assessments” comes at a time when Prime Minister Theresa May is facing calls to pursue continued membership of the EU customs union and single market.

Both are key institutional pillars of the EU requiring, among other things, subordination of national decision making in external trade and product and service regulation to the auspices of Brussels.

Members of the government and the opposition Labour Party, on both sides of the Brexit divide, have acknowledged this would not be consistent with the electoral decision to leave the European Union. Davis responded to the committee Wednesday;

“You use the word impact assessment. I’ve been using the word sectoral analysis. They are different, right?” 
“People seem to assume an impact assessment consists of a quantitative forecast. As we have said, as the deputy governor of the Bank of England has said, as any number of people have said, these economic forecasts do not work.”

Wednesday's skirmish also comes at a pivotal time for the Brexit negotiations overall. Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure to put forward proposals on how to avoid physical infrastructure at the Northern Irish border, proposals that will be acceptable to the Republic of Ireland. 

A Monday meeting with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker was drawn to a premature conclusion after the May was told by confidence and supply partner, the Democratic Unionist Party, that they will not support her proposed wording for the text as it would lead to Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the UK. 

PM May has until the end of the week to put forward a text that the government is united around. Without this a vote, at the December 14 European Council summit, to move Brexit negotiations on to the next stage is seen as unlikely. 

European negotiators have refused to discuss trade and a transition to future arrangements unless the UK agrees to pay a "financial settlement" and make assurances on the protection of EU citizens rights after Brexit, alongside proposals on how to avoid physical infrastructure at the Northern Irish border. 

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