The early history of the 58 Brexit sector analyses

This post tells the early story, based on public domain sources, of the UK government’s 58 analyses of sectors which will be affected by Brexit.

There has now been a binding vote by the House of Commons for the government to provide these panalyses to Parliament.

The government has said it will comply with this vote, though we do not yet know extent of this promised disclosure.

But whatever is eventually published, the story of these reports is interesting in itself and shows much about what has been wrong about how the UK government has prepared (or not prepared) for Brexit.



July 2016

As early as July 2016 (the month after the vote) the then relevant ministers told a parliamentary committee of the need to examine the impact of Brexit on various sectors.


September 2016

Once appointed, Mr Davis himself described the need to examine various sectors affected by Brexit in his evidence to a Lords committee in September 2016.

The day after Mr Davis is pressed about this need, and the obvious problems about such analyses and the robustness of the evaluation of data, at a Commons committee:

“Mike Gapes MP: Yesterday you told the Lords EU Select Committee that you are going to ask businesses to give you a quantitative assessment of the impact of various scenarios on their sectors. How are you going to assess the validity of that data?

“Mr Davis: You have elided two things. I think I was talking to Lord Green, and what I said was that we will carry out quantitative assessments and, yes, of course, some of the information will come from there, but it will be the same way you test any data given to you. You look at how it was calculated, you ask for the—

“Mr Gapes: You will carry it out, or the businesses will carry it out?

“Mr Davis: We will carry out some of our own, yes; that’s right. The example I cited earlier is people comparing the effect of tariffs and nontariff barriers. How do you assess that? How big are the problems? Where are they?

“Mr Gapes: You also said that your Department doesn’t yet have the capacity to assess that data. When do you expect to have that capacity?

“Mr Davis: The trite answer is “before we need it”, but the sequence of events is a little like this: we are, at the moment, doing the round tables and the bilateral discussions; we will then be asking for data and submissions from them, which is already coming in some cases; we will then be doing the assessments. That is a little way away. The Department has doubled in one month, and I suspect it will double in size again, and that is about the point at which we will be looking for that information.

“Mr Gapes: Will that be before or after article 50 is triggered?

“Mr Davis: Before.”

Then, in answer to another question at that evidence session, about what his new department is doing, Mr Davis mentioned the following:

“A variety of things. First, there is the sectoral analysis: they are working through about 50 cross-cutting sectors—what is going to happen to them, what the problems of those industrial groups are, and so on. That is both them and in liaison with other Departments. Some of them are setting up an engagement strategy.”

So the figure of “about 50” is in place quite early in this process, by September 2016, and Mr Davis is openly confident that the work will be done before Article 50 is notified. Indeed, so confident is Mr Davis that he also states at that session:

“Because of the way the process is staged—data gathering at this stage, engagement at this stage, analysis later, policy design later after that, and so on—I don’t think we are going to have a problem.”


October 2016

A month later, in October 2016, Mr Davis assured the Commons:

“The Government continue to undertake a wide range of analysis covering all parts of the UK to inform the UK’s position for the upcoming negotiation with the European partners.”

Also in October 2016, the then junior Brexit minister David Jones told a Commons committee:

“…my Department is involved in various analyses. We are analysing over 50 sectors and that includes, of course, engaging very closely with other Government departments so that we can establish what we consider to be the best possible terms for departure. That, of course, will inform our negotiation once it starts.”

And again in October 2016, then Brexit minister Lord Bridges tells a Lords committee that the reports are in a “manageable format” and that they dealt with the impact of Brexit on sectors:

It is an attempt to try to get this into a manageable format so that we can analyse what Brexit might mean for those particular sectors. 


December 2016

By early December 2016, the analysis had become “extensive”, with Mr Davis telling the Commons:

“…we are carrying out an extensive programme of sectoral analysis on the key factors that affect our negotiations with the European Union”.

Mr Davis then again asserted that all the analysis will be in place before the Article 50 notification:

“This is a single-shot negotiation, so we must get it right, and we will get it right by doing the analysis first and the notification second. I will do that.”

Mr Jones, at the same session, added more detail about the analyses:

“The Department is carrying out a programme of work to analyse the economic significance and trade dynamics of more than 50 sectors of the economy. That includes analysis at both national and regional levels.”

At this point we have to note that in December 2016 a motion is passed by the House of Commons in support of Brexit and the March deadline for sending the notification, supported by the Labour front bench as well as by the government. For the purposes of this post, the important part of the motion was that the House:

“confirms that there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations to depart from the European Union after Article 50 has been triggered”.

Who would be the “reasonable judge” of whether any such disclosure would damage the UK was not stipulated. Of course, it would be the government itself, rendering it a fairly meaningless and self-serving provision: the government could use the “damage” excuse to cover anything which it did not want to disclose, whether because of mere embarrassment or something serious. A few days later the Brexit secretary David Davis is before a Commons select committee, and he again mentioned the analyses:

“We are in the midst of carrying out about 57 sets of analyses, each of which has implications for individual parts of 85% of the economy. Some of those are still to be concluded.”

So by December 2016 Mr Davis is more exact about the number of the analyses and about their overall economic significance. (This December 2016 statement has been cited recently as if it were the first reference to the analyses, although as the quotes above show, the analyses dated back until at least September 2016.) Mr Davis then added, referring to the Commons motion of the week before:

“As you will remember from the motion, one of the constrictions in the Government-amended motion, which got through by a majority of 372, was that I should do it in such a way, or the Government should do it in such a way, that it does not undermine our negotiating position. We have got to be very careful about what we publish. I want to be as open as we can be, but we must be sure that we are not undermining our own position.”



January 2017

In January 2017, Brexit ministers are still talking up the analyses – here was Mr Jones at a Lords committee, where the analyses are coupled with “extensive” consultations:

“As you are aware, my department is conducting an extensive programme of consultation with more than 50 sectors. It will not surprise you to hear that the City of London is at the very top of that list. That consultation continues.”

Later that month, in reply to a question about whether the government had made an assessment of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on businesses in (a) the UK and (b) the EU, another Brexit minister Robin Walker said:

“Our Department, working with officials across government, continues to undertake a wide range of analysis, covering the entirety of the UK economy and our trading relationships with the EU. We are looking at more than 50 sectors, as well as cross-cutting regulatory issues.”

At the same session, Mr Jones said the analysis is “thorough”:

“The Department has been undertaking a thorough analysis of more than 50 business sectors.”


February 2017

In February 2017, the government produced a (now largely forgotten) White Paper on Brexit. It was a flimsy and rushed document, but parts of it are revealing. In respect of the fifty or so analyses, it said:

“We have structured our approach by five broad sectors covering the breadth of the UK economy: goods; agriculture, food and fisheries; services; financial services; and energy, transport and communications networks, as well as areas of crosscutting regulation. Within this, our stakeholder engagement and analysis covers over 50 specific sectors.”

In introducing this White Paper, Mr Davis told the House of Commons:

“We continue to analyse the impact of our exit across the breadth of the UK economy, covering more than 50 sectors —I think it was 58 at the last count—to shape our negotiating position.”


March 2017

Days before the Article 50 notification on 29 March 2017, Mr Jones told a Commons committee of the “huge amount” in respect of “over fifty sectors”:

“There is quite a lot of work going on to address all sorts of eventualities. You are quite right: it is quite possible that the negotiations will turn out to be impossible to conclude, or there may well be a negotiated settlement whereby we leave on other terms. That is why my department has been carrying out a huge amount of work over the last seven or eight months, engaging with over 50 separate sectors of the economy, many of which have cross-cutting issues that need to be addressed, to ensure we are in a position to plan for whatever may eventually take place.


April 2017

In April 2017, Labour MP Seema Malhotra asked about an economic evaluation of “no deal”. Mr Jones replied, describing the analyses as “in-depth” and – interestingly – in the past tense (“carried out”):

“The Department has carried out an in-depth assessment right across 50 sectors of the economy. We have made it clear, however, that it is not in the national interest for us to produce a running commentary on the way in which we are developing our negotiating position, and that will remain the case.”


May 2017

This use of the past tense is again used by Mr Jones in a letter dated 23 May 2017 in response to request for the analyses from Green MEP Molly Scott Cato:

“DExEU has conducted analysis of over 50 sectors of the economy”


June 2017

In June 2017 Tracey Brabin, the Labour MP, decided to ask more about the reasoning for the non-disclosure (though not for the reports themselves):

“To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, with reference to the Answer of 30 March 2017 […], for what reason he believes the information requested would undermine the ability to negotiate the best possible deal for Britain.”

In a reply a few days later, Mr Walker held to the view that blanket disclosure would “harm” the UK’s negotiating position, though he said a list of the sectors would “shortly” be disclosed:

“The Department for Exiting the European Union, working with officials across Government, continues to undertake a wide range of analysis to support our negotiations. Our work covers the breadth of the UK economy, and we are looking in detail at more than 50 sectors as well as areas of cross-cutting regulation. Parliament has agreed that we will not publish anything that would undermine the Government’s ability to negotiate the best deal for Britain.

“Now, that the Prime Minister has initiated the Article 50 process and negotiations have begun in earnest, I can confirm that we will shortly be publishing the list of sectors we have been examining – though this of course does not mean that we have changed our position on revealing information which may harm our negotiating position. “


The analyses by June 2017

So by June 2017, we had already been told:

– the number of analyses (57 or 58)

– the analyses are in a “manageable format”

– the supposed overall significance of the analyses (85% of the economy)

– the analyses covered economic issues and “trade dynamics”

– the analyses were “extensive” and “thorough”

– the analyses were at both national and regional level

– the analyses dealt with the impact of Brexit on sectors

– the analyses were to be complete before notification and before Brexit policy-making

– the government was already minded not to publish any of the analyses, using the excuse that disclosure would undermine the government’s position


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23 thoughts on “The early history of the 58 Brexit sector analyses”

  1. Of course your government does not publish the outcome of their more than 50 or less than 60 analyses. The Dutch government, although not leaving the EU, has published the effects of a Brexit on the various sectors of Dutch economy. So now we know the trouble we could expect and take adequate action. I read that there are already firms, who at this moment stop trading with UK for different reasons. EU and most EU countries have analysed the effects of Brexit upon their economies and published the results. Firms can use this information to formulate their commercial policy. I don’t understand the need for secrecy of British government with the excuse of their position in the negotiations. I don’t believe their is anything new in the outcome of the analyses we on the continent, including the Russians, don’t know. Only British business is on a disadvatage.
    Fog in the Channel, Britain is closed.

    1. I must agree with this. It has always surprised me that the UK press has accepted the ‘don’t give away our negotiating strategy’ excuse when one of the biggest complaints about the EU is the volume of red tape. A lot of this red tape is about submitting details to Brussels about every aspect of one’s business – we have to do it here in Ireland. As such, I assume that Brussels can aggregate a lot of the information that the UK has so the current trading positions are known to both sides. Of course, the hypotheses of future trading may well be different but hiding the analyses is unlikely to prevent the EU from having a pretty good idea of the effect of Brexit on these 58ish sectors. Only the British public is being kept in the dark.

  2. excellent reconstruction, I hope this receives the attention it deserves. In effect, David Davies has been lying to Parliament: either when he proclaimed that the analyses have been done or when he (now) suggests that the 58 assessments actually never existed in the form he previously suggested. Absolutely scandalous. Unfortunately society is now so divided over this issue that no proper discussion of this will be possible as both sides believe to have a firm grasp of reality and to be acting broadly ‘rational’, even though these two realities ar mutually exclusive.

  3. I am both delighted and shocked to have read the above. Any company that ran its business in this way would be out of business quickly. I, as a member of the ordinary public, am grossly dissatisfied with the ineffectual and dishonest approach of our negotiating team – somehting we have all seen for a long time but this article demonstrates that this view is valid.

  4. Davis, 14 Dec 2016: “We are in the midst of carrying out about 57 sets of analyses, each of which has implications for individual parts of 85% of the economy. Some of those are still to be concluded.”

    Talking about sets of analyses.

    Then he writes, in November 2017, “…since the start of this process the Government has been clear that there are not, nor have there ever been, a series of discrete impact assessments.”

    What on earth was he talking about in December 2016 if they weren’t discrete impact assessments?

    1. Dear Dipper.
      As a very small family business importing from and exporting to EU and ROW daily , We care. This affects us, our customers here and o/seas, the speed and ease of supply and possibly our ability to trade in a timely manner.

      So yes, we really would like to know what impact Brexit will have. Some relevant info to decide if I need to invest funds to stockpile raw materials, or even to set up my facility inside the EU would be very handy thanks! Currently we have only EU based impact reports upon which to decide or prepare anything. But UK based would be far more relevant.

      Our business, created from 15 years of hard slog, Provides a few jobs, and so there are other people dependent on the continuation of our successful trading.

      So yup, we would like a sector report please.

      Meantime, tomorrow I’m going to EU for 4 days to look for a potential site to relocate to.

  5. What are the legal consequences of this, for Mr Davis?

    Is there any meaningful enforcement and penalty for ‘contempt of Parliament’, or is it just hot air?

  6. This makes even more of a hilarious (and deeply worrying) read now that it has been revealed that no impact assessment has been made at all regardless of sector or region.

    This blog needs to be archived somewhere very safe for evidential purposes for when the arguments start breaking out.

  7. Thank you very much for this extremely helpful & informative summary – I think I may be your newest subscriber. I come to you via a current live ‘The Guardian’ piece on Davis’s wriggling before the Brexit select committee.

    Davis seems to have decided that today had to be the day to ‘fess up’, before he gets any deeper into lying/prevaricating/deceiving/misleading or what have you, to parliament. To me his actions have great significance and his disgraceful behaviour can only be purged by his immediate dismissal, although perhaps he could be allowed to resign to marginally save his face. On reflection, the person who should dismiss him is the current prime minister, who must share his guilt & therefore should, in fairness, share his fate.

    Perhaps Davis’s choice of the day to come clean (I wonder?) could have been triggered by the news of the death of Christine Keeler. Wasn’t Profumo the last MP to resign because he lied to parliament?

    1. I think Jeremy Thorpe might have been last to go (Privare Eye’s “lying bugger”). It was at least a decade after Profumo that he denied a gay relationship with Norman Scott.

  8. Thank you for this interesting analysis.
    This matters a great deal to many people irrespective of how they voted in the referendum. The conduct of David Davies is apparently undemocratic.

  9. December 2017:

    Davis tells Commons select committee: All of the above was lies. We never did no assessments. Honest guv!

  10. Orwellian.

    The debate of the pre’net was Huxleian or Orwellian futures;
    ‘Brave New World’-Individual free/state control .
    ‘1984’- Totalitarian .

    I voted exit to expose right wing political skills.

    I argued orwellian. Now aethiest. No shakespeare, no bach, no verlequez in the afterlife tea rooms.
    They need, they seem state scroungers.

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