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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