The UK government has produced no economic forecasts on the likely impact of Brexit on various sectors of the economy, David Davis has told a committee of MPs who have attempted to examine the studies.
The revelation prompted calls from some MPs for the Brexit secretary to be held in contempt of parliament if it were found he had held back any details of such assessments, which a vote in the Commons last month demanded he released.
Answering questions from the Brexit select committee, Davis also said no economic impact study had been undertaken before the cabinet decision to leave the customs union and no assessment had been made of the possible economic effect of a no-deal Brexit.
On a day of several Brexit revelations, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, also revealed that the cabinet had not yet discussed what final Brexit outcome was being pursued, and that only“general discussions” had been held about the UK’s goals.
In the Brexit committee room, Davis was summoned to explain why MPs had not received more information from the government’s widely discussed forecasts of the economic impact of Brexit on British industries .
“There is no systematic impact assessment,” Davis replied.
Hilary Benn, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, asked Davis if the government had carried out any forecasts on the possible impact of Brexit on the automotive, aerospace or financial services sectors.
“The answer’s going to be no to all of them,” Davis replied.
Asked by Benn whether there had been any economic assessment of the impact of leaving the customs union, he replied: “Not a formal, quantitative one.”
Benn said Davis’s admission was “quite extraordinary”. Davis said it was not, arguing that there were a “phenomenal number of variables” to take into account.
The government has been under intense pressure to release the impact assessments since a Labour motion demanding publication of the documents was passed unanimously; Conservative MPs opted not to vote.
Two files of information were passed to the committee, but some members said they appeared incomplete and limited.
Benn asked Davis how the assessments could not exist when the Brexit secretary told MPs in September last year there were sectoral analyses for “about 50 cross-cutting sectors, [for] what is going to happen to them”.
“Now that sounds very clear to me that the government has been looking at the impact on individual sectors. And yet you’ve told us a moment ago you haven’t done that yet. Which is it? Either it has happened or it hasn’t,” Benn said.
Davis replied: “Do not draw the conclusion that because you use the word impact, you have written an impact assessment.”
Davis said there was a misunderstanding over what the government had done. These were, he said, sectoral analyses, started in 2016, which were “essentially looking at what the industries consist of, looking at the size of them in terms of revenue and capital and employment, and so on”.
“That’s all very useful and it’s the underpinning of a lot of policy, but it’s not a forecast of the outcome of leaving the European Union, or indeed various options thereof,” he said.
Impact assessments would begin “a little closer to the negotiating timetable”, Davis told the committee. “We will at some stage, and some of this has been initiated, do the best we can to quantify the effect of different negotiating outcomes as we come up to them.”
Appearing later in the day before the Treasury select committee, Hammond was asked whether there had been a cabinet discussion about a Brexit “end state”.
“The cabinet has had general discussions about our Brexit negotiations, but we haven’t had a specific mandating of an end-state position,” he said. “And of course, logically, that will happen once we have the information that we have reached sufficient progress and that we are going to begin the phase two negotiations with the EU27.
“We’re not yet at that stage, and it would have been premature to have that discussion until we reach that stage.”
In his evidence, Davis said government plans for the possibility of leaving the EU without a trade deal did not include any impact assessment.
The contingency planning included proposals for areas like customs and aviation, but “don’t have numbers attached to them” and so didn’t constitute a forecast, he said.
His comments prompted calls in the Commons for the Speaker, John Bercow, to examine whether the Brexit secretary was in contempt of parliament for not handing over all the information he could.
Raising a point of order, the SNP’s Pete Wishart said: “The government have singularly failed to meet the requirements of that binding vote in the house six weeks ago and must surely be in contempt.”
Bercow said he would await the view of the Brexit committee before deciding on any action.
He told Wishart: “I am very conscious of my responsibilities, and I will discharge my responsibilities. The matter is of considerable importance and interest to members in all parts of the house. Moreover, it has been going on for a considerable period.”
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