Russell under fire after Scottish Government 'withold' Brexit impact papers

29 November 2017, 13:19

Holyrood's Brexit Minister

Brexit Minister Mike Russell has come under fire after the Scottish Government was given key papers on the impact of leaving the European Union on the "basis of secrecy".

Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie said he was surprised SNP ministers had agreed to "withhold" the documents from both MSPs and the public, after being given them by the UK Government.

UK Brexit Secretary David Davis has already come under fire for failing to make the 850-page dossier, which contains details about the impact of leaving the EU on 58 different sectors of the economy, available to all MPs at Westminster.

Mr Davis was forced to release the information to the Brexit Select Committee following a House of Commons motion. The papers, which do not contain any sensitive information, have also been handed to the Lords EU committee and the devolved administrations.

Mr Russell confirmed to the Scottish Parliament's Finance and Constitution Committee the document had been handed over to the Scottish Government "on the understanding that we would not publish it."

He told MSPs: "I think in those circumstances certainly we are not going to publish it."

Mr Harvie questioned the decision to "accept that information from the Government on the basis of secrecy".

He told Mr Russell: "I am slightly disturbed by the implication of your decision to accept this information on the basis that you will withhold it from parliamentary scrutiny and from public scrutiny."

The Brexit Minister said he wanted the information to be made public - but stressed that was a matter for the UK Government, not ministers in Holyrood.

He said: "My inclination is to make everything I possibly can but on this occasion this is material that was provided to us and it was provided to the Committee in a confidential way.

"I think it should be public, I think it will become public, but I can't make an ex cathedra decision on that."

The Scottish Government confirmed it had received the impact assessment on Monday, but Mr Russell said there were concerns about "both the manner in which these reports have come to us, and their content".

He repeated calls for the papers to be made public in a letter to Mr Davis, which said: "It is essential that people across the UK fully understand the consequences of decisions being taken about their future.

"It is disappointing that the UK Government has persisted in keeping this information from being publicly available and have shared with us only on the basis that we do not release it into the public domain.

"I urge you to reconsider this approach, be up front with people and publish these reports immediately."

Mr Russell also complained the "reports do not contain any actual impact analysis".

The SNP Minister told Mr Davis: "They seem to be a collation of sectoral information, and as useful as that is it fails to address the key need; to understand what assessment the UK Government has made of the likely impact of its approach of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union and what mitigating measures if any are being put in place to manage negative impacts."

He also said to MSPs he recognised some of the material from information made available to the Joint Ministerial Committee, which brings together the UK Government and the devolved administrations to discuss Brexit.

"I think some of it is rehash of other material," Mr Russell said.