MPs vote down Labour bid to force Government to publish secret custom deal plans

Posted On: 
16th May 2018

Labour has failed in a bid to force the Government to publish secret documents on their plans for a customs deal with the EU after Brexit.

Credit: 
PA Images

MPs voted 301 to 269 against the Labour motion to force the publication of Cabinet documents relating to post-Brexit customs plans.

Conservative MPs had been ordered by party whips to vote against the move.

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Labour had used a so-called humble address, an arcane parliamentary convention, to try and force the Government to release the documents after Labour previously used the tactic to secure the publication of the 58 Brexit impact papers.

The attempted ambush came after Theresa May's Brexit war Cabinet once again failed to reach an agreement on what type of trading arrangement they want with the EU in the future.

The 11-strong group of senior ministers met for around an hour and a half, and heard presentations from David Lidington and David Davis on the two options under consideration, a customs partnership and so-called "maximum facilitation".

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union Paul Blomfield said that the motion gave the House an opportunity to sort out the “total mess” of the UK’s customs arrangement.

“This is frankly a desperate state of affairs, we are two years on from the referendum, five months away from the deadline on the withdrawal deal, and the Government still can’t agree on the most basic of issues in relation to Brexit, our future customs arrangement.

“Each week we see a new attempt, and each week we see it fail.

“Cabinet, war cabinet and two sub-committees of warring factions. Well yesterday we saw at least some agreement. An agreement to kick the ball down the road for another month. To publish a white paper on the Government’s negotiation position, but without any agreement on what will be in it.”

He added: “Parliament has a deep responsibility to stand up for the people that we represent, and we need access to the information to do that.”

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said that Labour’s motion could undermine Cabinet’s ability to have frank and unconstrained discussions when making decisions.

“You cannot have honest open discussion in Cabinet or Cabinet committee if people know that at any time, their views could be made public by means of a resolution of the House.

“Officials must be able to give frank advice in confidence to Ministers. And that includes those memoranda and other papers provided to Cabinet committees by some of the senior officials in the civil service.”

He added: “The candour of everybody involved, whether Ministers of officials, would be affected if they thought the content of their discussions would be disclosed prematurely. Frankly, if details of discussions were routinely made public then Ministers would feel inhibited from being frank and candid with one another.

“As a result the quality of debate underlying collective decision making would decline significantly.

“That is not in the interest of any Government of any political party, and it is not in the interest of our constitutional democracy.”