British lawmakers are relying on an ancient power to force the government to tell the truth about Brexit

By any means necessary.
By any means necessary.
Image: Reuters/Mary Turner
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Britain’s Brexit secretary David Davis has come under fire for heavily editing government analyses about how the UK leaving the European Union could impact 58 industries. The documents were meant to be delivered to parliament’s Brexit committee to help them prepare policies ahead of Britain leaving the bloc.

Instead, yesterday Davis reportedly delivered an 850-page document with redactions (paywall). The release was forced by Keir Starmer, the Labour Party’s shadow Brexit secretary (pictured above), who invoked an ancient and rarely used parliamentary procedure called the “humble address” earlier this month. The procedure petitions the monarch, and by extension the government, to force the disclosure of certain documents (many examples of it date from the 19th century). His motion was passed by lawmakers from a range of parties, including some pro-Brexit MPs from Davis’s Conservatives.

Previously, Davis blocked the release of the full reports about how British businesses might fare after Brexit because he “received no assurances from the committee regarding how any information passed will be used.” Policymakers need “a safe space to allow for design and deliberation to be done in private,” the Brexit department said. Now, the department claimed in a statement that “our analysis does not exist in the form Parliament requested,” adding that “we have taken time to bring together the analysis we do have in a way that meets parliament’s specific ask.”

Starmer has suggested that Davis could be held in contempt of parliament—an offense that accuses someone of obstructing the legislature from carrying out of its functions, or of hindering a lawmaker in the performance of their duties. The edited release is “not good enough,” he said today, promising to “press the issue.” Parliament’s Brexit committee meets today to examine the documents and discuss the next steps.