After much ado, the infamous Brexit papers have finally been published today.
You’ll remember David Davis got into hot water with parliament’s Brexit committee in November.
After suggesting his department had analysed 58 sectors of the economy, the Brexit secretary appeared to backtrack. There was, he claimed, “no such systemic impact assessment” of the effect of Brexit on the economy.
But the story took a further thrilling turn at the end of last month, when Mr Davis was in fact able to release papers on the topic to the committee.
Today, in an early Christmas present to the nation, 39 “sectoral analyses” have been published by the committee.
But there’s a catch: they don’t actually tell us much at all.
What’s in the papers?
The 39 documents – called “sectoral reports” – released today cover industries as varied as oil, aerospace, telecoms, banking, and gambling.
They each give an overview of their respective sectors, outlining some of the main UK and EU regulations that affect businesses and consumers.
There are stats a-plenty (useful for those of us in the business of fact-checking), and details of the structure of each market.
But the real meat of the reports is missing: all the details from businesses and trade bodies about how Brexit will affect them have been redacted.
Why so sparse?
Civil servants, regulators and ministers collect “market sensitive” or “commercially sensitive” information from businesses and trade bodies all the time. They use this to help them make decisions about policy and regulations.
Companies are only willing to provide this information – which includes details like their own profit margins, supply chains, business plans – on the proviso that government departments don’t share it further. After all, if their competitors found out these kind of details, they could suffer serious damage.
So this is not information that government departments can just put out there. If they did, no one would be willing to provide it in future, leaving civil servants and lawmakers in the dark about how to regulate markets or make new policy.
And in some cases, publishing market sensitive information is illegal, and could amount to insider trading. Guidance from the Cabinet Office sets out what’s at stake for civil servants when it comes to commercial details:
“There are legal constraints governing the release of some commercially sensitive information. The implications for communicators can be very important. The unsanctioned release of certain categories of information can result in legal action against the offender.”
So the Brexit department finds itself between the rock of being transparent with parliament and the public; and the hard place of respecting market sensitive information.
The “solution” they’ve lighted upon is to publish the boring bits of their analysis, without the interesting (but market sensitive) responses from companies and employers.
These reports will give you more insight into the effects of Brexit
But that’s not to say that we know nothing about the effects of Brexit on different industries. In fact, some trade bodies and market analysts have gone ahead and published their own assessments of what will happen when we leave the EU.
Here’s a selection of some more illuminating reports.
- The British Retail Consortium sets out its vision of a “Fair Brexit for Consumers”. It calls on government to secure the future of EU migrants, which it says are crucial for the UK retail sector.
- This report from academics at the Universities of London, Sussex and Cardiff considers “A Food Brexit”. It considers the benefits and risks of Brexit for the UK food market, and raises concerns about the government’s handling of food security after Brexit.
- The Association of British Travel Agents’ report looks at how Brexit could affect travel between the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. They argue that we should retain visa-free travel between the UK and the EU post-Brexit.
- This analysis of the future of North Sea oil after Brexit suggests that leaving the EU might not have a big effect in itself, but warns that wider political changes could change things.
- The King’s Fund’s most recent report on the effect of Brexit on health and social care considers the “far-reaching impact” of leaving the EU, and the importance of retaining EU citizens.
- And finally, this report by the European Parliament on the possible effect of Brexit on financial services in the EU.