Diary Day 383: Lord Kerr’s assessment of the situation. Bad news on productivity. A shortage of clarity. 

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 383: Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a former diplomat and the author of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, said some important things in evidence given to the Scottish Parliament’s Europe Committee in Holyrood. The session is available on the Scottish Parliament TV channel. 

Lord Kerr explained the origins of Article 50 and the time limit it contains. He said that at the convention where it was drafted very few could contemplate any member state being “mad enough to want to leave”. He said he did not think two years put a member state under undue pressure, but found it “odd” that we had triggered Article 59 without having a clear idea where we were going to go, without even an agreed definition inside the Government of the end state, our future relationship with the EU. 

He said the friendlier tone of the PM’s Florence speech and the movement on the money issue were an improvement on her 2016 party conference speech and her Lancaster House speech but: “She still hasn’t said what she envisages the long term steady state relationship will be… She hasn’t set out her blueprint. She didn’t say anything about it yesterday.” 

He called the situation “a kind of a vacuum”. 

He said that the transition as discussed so far by the British as a transition was not a transition at all. “We don’t know where we are going, we don’t know where the other pillar of the bridge is, we don’t know where we are landing… It is not an implementation period… it is a deferral period… The cliff edge is still there, it just comes two years later.” He likened it to postponing the date for executing a prisoner. 

He went on to say that refusal to implement new laws or ECJ decisions after March 2019 or the immigration minister’s statement in Manchester that the Government would end free movement on 29th March 2019 were inconsistent with a deferral period. 

Asked how likely a hard Brexit was in 2019, he replied that the Government had raised expectations unrealistically. “At some stage the penny is going to drop. At some stage between now and March 2019 it’s going to become clear that Johnson roaring like a lion isn’t actually delivering anything in Brussels; and what we were told during the referendum and since about being able to have our cake and eat it isn’t proving to be the case.”

He said he personally was interested in the alternative that after the penny had dropped the public could wonder whether it was a good idea to leave. 

The PM’s insistence that the ECJ must have “no sway” in the UK had caused “strange contortions” such as leaving Euratom. 

He said that after March 2019 during the transition we would not be members and would have no seat at the table. He worried that this was not understood, and might not be until it was too late to do anything about it. Until March 2019 we should behave as full members; the government had made a mistake to fail to attend some meetings and concentrate only on the Brexit dossier. Until March 2019 we could take back our Article 50 letter and carry on as full members. But after midnight on the 29th March 2019 we would lose all our privileges and if we wanted to go back in, it would be an accession negotiation. 

He said that when drafting Article 50 he would have put in a sub clause about withdrawal of the notice but that had not been necessary because the legal advice he had received when drafting Article 50 was that “if it doesn’t say you can’t withdraw your letter then you can withdraw your letter.” He was not a lawyer himself but was sure the advice was right. 

So he is implicitly saying he got top legal advice on this point – as one would expect. 

He said we could turn up at an EU Council meeting and say we had changed our minds. 

He said this autumn’s drama would be amending the Withdrawal Bill. The country would not take much notice; they (Parliament) would be trying to amend a bill that “is, in my view, defective”. Next autumn’s drama would be the negotiated deal. He could not see “any negotiable deal for which there is a majority in the House of Commons”, saying there were “sufficient hard-line Brexiteers to make it very difficult for the PM to compromise sufficiently to get a deal in Brussels”.

He said there was “certainly a majority against no deal”; a large majority in both Houses of Parliament now thought that “no deal is better than a bad deal”was wrong. 

He suggested that when the reality of the situation became clear to MPs, “at that stage I think we could be quite close to an election”. 

Lord Kerr said that in his opinion the clauses in the Withdrawal Bill which dealt with currently devolved powers were a subset of the Henry VIII clause powers and would be amended, because currently Holyrood had control of, for example, environmental protection subject only to EU laws, and if the centre [Westminster] took back EU powers over those areas rather than those powers passing to the devolved Government it would for the first time be a breach of the devolution settlement. 

He said that if the EU Council agreed a Brexit deal then the Parliament would agree it, because everyone was aware that a cliff edge without a deal would be dreadful. Only a qualified majority in Council was necessary, not unanimity, and ratification by national parliaments would not be necessary. 

He said the long term relationship would be different, requiring unanimity in the Council and national ratification. The Wallonia problem could arise, as with the EU-Canadian CETA deal. Areas of most likely difficulty would be where the UK had insulted people, such as the Polish Government over the treatment of Polish citizens in the UK. Poland was unhappy that the country it thought was its closest friend had turned out to resent paying structural funds for Poland and to resent having Polish citizens in its country. But the time negotiations would take meant ratification would not come up until 2024 or 2025. 

This sober, rational assessment of the situation was all the more valuable for being from a crossbench member of the Upper House of Parliament and an extremely experienced diplomat. 

In London, according to various newspapers, a recent internal Treasury document suggested that the £26bn buffer that Philip Hammond had allowed for in the national finances would be reduced to “single digits of billions”. Officials said that Philip Hammond was facing a “bloodbath” in his November budget. 

Mr Hammond’s aim is to reduce the annual budget deficit to less than 2% pc by 2020-21. But recent UK productivity growth has slowed to 0.2%: dreadful in comparison with other countries. 

The Office for Budget Responsibility had concluded that its budget forecasts were over-optimistic and was preparing a downward revision of its economic forecasts which would bring them into closer alignment with those of the Bank of England, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and most private sector forecasters. 

Brenda Hale, the first woman member and now also first woman president of the UK Supreme Court, giving her first press conference since being sworn in as the court’s president, was asked what the future relationship should be between that court and the European Court of Justice. Lady Hale replied that it would be “useful” if the Supreme Court was instructed by Parliament to take ECJ judgments into account. 

“We will do what Parliament tells us to do. We would like Parliament to give us as much clarity as possible.” 

Clarity: everyone wants it, but the Government is unable to give it. 

Diary Day 382: what the MEPs said. Mishaps in Manchester. 

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 382: the dire state that British politics are in has not escaped the attention of the European Parliament. German Green Party MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, when asked whether the European Parliament’s vote on the Brexit negotiations was a surprise to lawmakers, told the DW (Deutsche Welle) news channel: “The Brexiteers didn’t believe the tiniest little bit in their own propaganda. And they were surprised that they were so successful in fooling the British people. And unprepared as they had, they now are in the mess that they created. So in a way, it’s not a surprise.” 

Indeed. 

Manfred Weber MEP, leader of the EPP (the European People’s Party, the largest bloc in the European Parliament) and believed to be a key ally of Angela Merkel, said: “The top question I think for the moment is: Who shall I call in London? Who speaks for the government — Theresa May, Boris Johnson, or even David Davis? Please sack Johnson, because we need a clear answer on who is responsible for the British position. Theresa May, please don’t put the party first — please put Britain first, please put the citizens first.”

But she did not sack Johnson. 

At her Party Conference in Manchester she gave the keynote speech in which she suffered coughing fits and was handed a P45 (redundancy notice) by a comedian. And some letters fell off the slogan on the stage backdrop behind the podium. 

These mishaps distracted the press from the content of the speech. On Brexit she had nothing new to say. 

Later in a memorable interview the BBC’s Eddie Mair interviewed the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, on the security breach that allowed the comedian so near to the Prime Minister and on the many reasons for sacking Johnson. 

And yet Johnson is still there. 

Mr Weber nailed it. Theresa May has so lost authority that the EU27 don’t know with whom to negotiate any more. 

Diary Day 381: what the European Parliament decided. What Michel Barnier warned. Construction sector suffers Brexit blight. 

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 381: the European Parliament, in plenary session in Strasbourg, passed by 557 to 92, with 29 abstentions, a resolution setting out Parliament’s contribution to the forthcoming EU27 summit on 20th October in Brussels, when leaders of the member states will assess progress in the Brexit negotiations. 

For those who want to know what the resolution said, as distinct from what the British press and some politicians pretend it said, it is available online on the Parliament’s Europarl.eu website. Here is a précis. After a long preamble, it: 

  • Reiterates all the elements set out in its resolution of 5 April 2017; 
  • Welcomes the fact that the European Union’s negotiator is working in full compliance with his mandate;
  • Sets out the requirements for a time-limited transitional period including that the withdrawal agreement must come first;
  • Sets out the requirements on citizens’ rights; 
  • States the opinion that the UK’s proposals set out in its position paper of 26 June 2017 fall short and expresses its concern that these proposals, among other things, are causing unnecessary hardship and anxiety for the citizens of the EU-27 living in the UK;
  • Issues a stern reminder to the UK that it is still bound by and must conform to the EU Treaties; 
  • Reaffirms that the ECJ must remain the sole arbiter for interpreting and enforcing EU law and the withdrawal agreement, and awaits concrete proposals from the UK in that regard;
  • Stresses that the the withdrawal agreement must be consistent with the Good Friday Agreement, the agreed areas of cooperation, and with EU law in order to ensure the continuity and stability of the Northern Ireland peace process;
  • States the belief that it is the responsibility of the UK Government to provide a solution on Ireland and the Irish border problem and that the United Kingdom’s proposals, set out in its position paper, fall short, but that the PM in her Florence speech presumes that the UK or Northern Ireland stays in the internal market and customs union;
  • Reiterates that any solution found for the island of Ireland cannot serve to predetermine the future relationship between the EU and UK; 
  • Says that concrete proposals on the financial settlement have not been made and their absence has seriously impeded the negotiations and that substantial progress in that area is required before entering into discussions on other issues; 
  • Reaffirms that the UK must respect in full its financial obligations made as a Member State; 
  • Calls the phased approach to negotiations crucial for an orderly withdrawal; 
  • Underlines that it is vital that the Florence speech commitments translate into tangible changes to the United Kingdom’s position and into concrete proposals;  
  • Is of the opinion that in the fourth round of negotiations sufficient progress has not yet been made and calls on the European Council, “unless there is a major breakthrough in line with this resolution in all three areas during the fifth negotiation round”, to decide at its October 2017 meeting to postpone its assessment on whether sufficient progress has been made;
  • Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the national parliaments and the Government of the UK. 

In his closing speech, Michel Barnier thanked the European Parliament for the numerous messages of support. He replied to the debate saying there were “two words which were not at all part of my state of mind or attitude. They are: revenge and punishment. I have had the greatest admiration for the United Kingdom for a long time…” 

He went on: “There is no ransom. There is no exit bill. There is simply the fact that at the point in time that you leave, we are asking you to settle the accounts. No more, no less. To pay what you have committed to pay.

“And… this is an important point if… we are to begin a different, but solid and lasting relationship in trade, security, the fight against terrorism, and defence. We need to have this trust between us if we are to create a lasting relationship in the future. And the key to this trust is that you accept to settle the accounts objectively.”

He said he did not understand the idea that he, or the EU, were delaying things, or are trying to keep the UK in the Union. He pointed to the periods that elapsed before the UK served the Article 50 notice and while the general election was held. 

He added “a few points that should be well understood, or even better understood.” First, referring to the UK Government’s statements that the UK was also leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, he said: “After 44 years of integration, I would recommend that nobody underestimates the complexity and the legal, human, social, economic, and financial difficulties of this decision. And I recommend that those who made this decision should shoulder the consequences.”

Second, emphasising mutual respect, he said that he thought it was “better that you leave the European Union on 30 March 2019 with an agreement, rather than without one. It is in the common interest… We respect this choice. We ask you to respect the European Union. We ask you to respect the fact that we are uncompromising on the integrity of the Single Market, and on the respect of the rules on the functioning and the autonomy of decision-making in the European Union. European Union taxpayers cannot pay for the consequences of Brexit. Brexit cannot weaken the Single Market and the four freedoms, of which they are an intrinsic part.” 

Finally, he said that he and all the MEPs were elected representatives who would have to be accountable to our citizens, to taxpayers, to businesses and to those who had built the EU over the past 60 years, “of which we are the co-guarantors and for which we share responsibility”. 

In London, there was shock at the latest seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index of 48.1 in September, down from 51.1 in August. A figure below 50 represents contraction. 

Tim Moore, Associate Director at IHS Markit and author of the release, commented that a shortfall of new work “has started to weigh heavily on” the sector. Apart from “the soft patch” around the EU referendum, this was the construction companies’ “longest period of falling workloads since early 2013”. Client confidence was “fragile”, tender opportunities “reduced” and cost pressures had “intensified, driven by supply bottlenecks and rising prices for imported materials.” 

Duncan Brock, Director of Customer Relationships at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, called it “a dismal picture… as the sector showed signs of worsening business conditions across the board… 

“Respondents pointed to obstructive economic conditions and the Brexit blight of uncertainty, freezing clients into indecision over new projects… 

“The contagion continued all along the supply chain…”  

Still no outward sign from the Brexit fanatics of coming to their senses. The Conservatives are now turning their attention to the threat to their own hegemony from the Labour Party rather than the threat to the country from their own actions. 

Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. 

Diary Day 380: how France’s Europe minister sees it. Conservatives infight. Businesses are unusually frank. New immigration rules are delayed. Monarch airline collapses. 

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 380: France’s Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, interviewed by Stephen Sackur on the BBC ‘s Hardtalk programme, said in answer to his question whether sufficient progress had been made in the UK-EU negotiations for talks to commence on future trading relations: “For the time being on the three issues you mention, the conditions for the European citizen in the UK, the border with Ireland and the financial settlement, there has been no progress… Very little, and not sufficient. 

“The question is to have a moment when we can say that there is sufficient progress. There is no detailed position of the United Kingdom on either of the three issues.” 

She added: “I have asked the Irish Government what they think of the current position of the British Government, and we are in full solidarity with the Irish Government.”

She thought there was “day by day discovery of the work that had to be done” in order to “separate from the EU properly. This is extraordinarily complex.” 

She declined to comment on domestic politics but said she was “witnessing the enormous amount of work that remains to be done, and compared to what had been stated during the campaign of the referendum there is a huge difference between what had been said to British voters and the reality.” 

She said it was a “lesson that has to be learned for all of us”, that comparing the referendum with the position in 2005 when the project of a European constitution was “not really explained to our fellow citizens, this is precisely what we must not do in the future, have bright people deciding behind closed doors and then go back to the voters and say, “There is a very complex issue but the answer is very simple, it’s yes or no.” She called that a “caricature” of the debate. 

She went on to say: “It’s also our common interest to let open doors and say ‘maybe if you’re interested one day, we’ll be happy to have you back’.” 

Ms Loiseau is a highly experienced diplomat who was director of the elite École Nationale d’Administration from 2012 to 2017 before being appointed to the Government in June. 

The Conservative Party conference continued amid splits and infighting. 

The director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Adam Marshall, said: “Business people across Britain are growing impatient with division and disorganisation at the heart of the party of government, and have made it very clear that they expect competence and coherence from ministers as we move into a critical period for the economy. 

“Public disagreements between Cabinet ministers in recent weeks have only served to undermine business confidence, not just on Brexit negotiations, but also on the many issues where firms need to see clear action from government closer to home.”

He added: “On Brexit, businesses are clear that they want a comprehensive transition period, lasting at least three years, and pragmatic discussions on the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU firmed up by the end of 2017.

“They will judge the Government’s progress on Brexit by this yardstick – not by public speeches or pronouncements – and will take investment and hiring decisions accordingly.”

At a fringe meeting run by the Institute for Government, immigration minister Brandon Lewis said the key details of the new immigration policy would not be made public until next autumn. 
He said the detail of the new approach to EU migrants would be set out in statutory instruments after the government’s Migration Advisory Committee had reported. 

Bronwen Maddox, director of the Institute for Government, said she remained “very sceptical” of even this revised timetable. 

While Brits obsessed about Brexit and signals of a leadership challenge to Theresa May, the EU27 were more concerned with Catalonia where over 2m citizens had voted in an independence referendum that the Spanish Government maintained was illegal. The police had reacted with violence against voters at polling stations. 

Monarch Airlines went into administration, and all its flights were grounded with 110,000 passengers left abroad and a further 300,000 customers with bookings left with their flights and holidays cancelled. The Civil Aviation Authority had to commission hundreds of flights to carry out the biggest repatriation operation since Dunkirk. 

The collapse of Monarch was due at least in part to the decline in sterling. The airline had contracts for fuel and aircraft paid for in US dollars. This meant the airline had to pay £50m a year more. Additionally it had placed an order for Boeing planes priced in dollars. 

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable said the blame for the collapse of Monarch lay in part with the pound’s post-Brexit falls and the chaos in government which had still left issues such as continued access to EU Open Skies unresolved. 

The pro-Brexit right-wing press poured scorn on his remarks. 

Diary Day 379: the autopsy conference and the march. Belfast’s Bombardier conundrum. Brexit, geopolitics and Russia. 

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 379: in Manchester, as Conservative Party faithful arrived for what Sky News called the “autopsy conference”, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest against Brexit. 

They were addressed beforehand by philosopher Professor A C Grayling, former communications chief for Tony Blair Alistair Campbell, former Conservative minister Stephen Dorrell, Labour MP Alison McGovern and Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable. 

The march was led by a carnival float carrying a monstrous bloated many-headed figure with the caricatured faces of Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and David “No-Notes” Davis. It carried the slogan “Brexit is a monstrosity. Let’s Stop It!” 

Paolo Orrigo , 51, told Reuters he was a Conservative voter who had switched to the Lib Dems. He said: “Theresa May is a zombie. She is not going to last.” 

Pictures of the march were shown around the world but received little coverage in Britain. That speaks volumes. 

Ed O’Loughlin commented in the Irish Times on the Trump administration’s decision to support Boeing in its dispute with the Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier, whose Belfast factory is planned to build the wings for the latter’s new plane. 

After enumerating the job losses that would mean Bombardier’s collapse would be a “desperate loss” for Northern Ireland and the UK, he called the decision “a stinging wake-up for Britain, which voted to leave the EU on the assumption that it would be able to make up for lost European trade by striking sweetheart deals with other countries – first and foremost the United States.” 

He recalled how the EU had in the past taken on the US in successful defence of Airbus, and called it the “most excruciating part of the present crisis” that in a “perfect farce of irony, incompetence and poetic justice, none of the parties most in need of the EU’s help are in a position to call for it.”

He pointed out that the DUP, “for reasons that remain somewhat murky”, had campaigned for Brexit, while Mrs May had “staked what little is left of her reputation on leading the UK out of both the EU and the single market”. The workers’ trade union at the factory, Unite, was also “badly compromised on Europe” as its general secretary Len McCluskey was “an enthusiastic backer of Labour’s present Eurosceptic policy”. None of them could ask for EU help “without losing what face they have left.” 

The workers’ best hope was that the EU would intervene of its own accord, he wrote. 

The leaders of the Tories, DUP, Unite are all working hard to do their own people harm. Why? 

The outgoing EU ambassador to Moscow, Vygaudas Ušackas, wrote in the Observer of “fundamental differences” between the West and Russia, as led by Vladimir Putin, which had not accepted the result of the Cold War. 

He advised that the West needed “a realistic, long-term and unified strategic approach. First, we must put our own house in order…”. This meant handling Brexit successfully while ensuring stable growth; resolving the migration crisis; shoring up popular trust in EU institutions through better and more transparent law-making. 

“The EU member states must remain politically united because in unity lies our strength. It is precisely our internal problems that Moscow is exploiting to undermine the credibility of the EU model.

“Second, we must stand up for our interests and values. Efforts by member states and Brussels to counter Russian propaganda, disinformation and meddling are essential, but they are not enough.

“We must be wary of Russian attempts to use business interests to split and weaken the EU. Energy security is of particular importance given our dependence on Russian gas. The Nord Stream II project does not comply with EU energy objectives on diversification. We should also retain vigilance when attempts are made to award states business contracts as a quid pro quo for questioning the sanctions regime or broader EU policies. We must speak up for our values, when abuses of human rights and freedoms occur. 

“The differences between us are vast and hinge on principles of European security.”

He said relations between Russia and the EU were stuck in a “deep and acute” crisis and unlikely to improve until President Putin left office and the conflict in Ukraine was resolved. 

And this is the heart of it. Brexit is stupid on a global scale. 

Diary Day 378: a shock for the Conservatives. 

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 378: an opinion poll by Opinium for the Social Market Foundation about voter attitudes to UK political parties shocked Conservatives by showing that the vast majority of voters under the age of of 45 did not think the Tories were “on their side” and would not consider voting for them. The dysfunctional housing market and stagnant wages were identified as the factors behind the findings. 

Andrew Cooper, a Conservative peer, founder of the market researcher Populus and a former strategy director for David Cameron, told the Observer that this was “an existential threat, which has been compounding for at least 20 years and goes very deep…” 

He added: “Both the idea of Brexit and the feelings that caused people to vote for it, and the consequences for Britain that those who voted for it were hoping to achieve, are all anathema to most people under 45… Being the Brexit party makes it even harder for the Tories to rebuild among younger voters.” 

Craig Oliver, former BBC man and David Cameron’s former communications chief, said: “Brexit is a planet-sized issue that is sucking everything into its orbit, so having the capacity of separating yourself from it and focusing on the young and policies that work for them is very hard.” 

In comments released by Theresa May’s office, she said: “The social contract in our country is that the next generation should always have it better than the last. Conservatives have a plan to make that a reality.” 

Oh really, Mrs May? How are you going to do that? Have you still not realised you are leading the country into economic decline? Mark Carney has repeatedly told you that. Only you turn a deaf ear. 

Trying to brazen this out is not working. Lord Heseltine told Bloomberg that some of the Europeans were losing interest in Brexit and in trying to negotiate; Britain was going and that was it. He still thought Brexit might not happen but said, disagreeing with Tony Blair, that he did not think you could put a percentage figure on the chances.  

Story-hungry journos spent more time on the ambitious Boris Johnson and what he had told the Murdoch-owned Sun propaganda sheet. Essentially his latest pronouncements advocated crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. No explanations, just his latest stunt to grab attention, as usual, only this time it was on the eve of the Tory conference and as if designed to undermine Theresa May. 

Nasty piece of work. Deserves the sack. 

Diary Day 377: Merkel and May meet in Tallinn. Lords criticise Government Bill. Spotlight on DExEU, Cabinet Office and Defra for poor Freedom of Information record. 

My #Remainer’s Diary Day 377: the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the EU held an informal Digital Summit in Tallinn for member states’ leaders to discuss technological change and digital innovation. Theresa May was invited. She had a meeting with Mrs Merkel at which they agreed on the importance of settling the issue of EU citizens’ rights as soon as possible. 

European Commission President Juncker told reporters that it would take “miracles” to have sufficient progress in the EU-UK talks to start post-Brexit trade talks by next month and he did not expect that. 

French President Emmanuel Macron indicated approval for this stance when he said: “If we accept speaking about life after (Brexit) we will open 27 debates on the future life that are profoundly weakening for the EU. That’s why the chosen method is the good one.” 
In London, the House of Lords Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform published a report highly critical of the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, currently heading for its committee stage in the House of Commons. The report is downloadable from the UK Parliament’s website. Here is the summary: 
“The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill gives excessively wide law-making powers to Ministers, allowing them to make major changes beyond what is necessary to ensure UK law works properly when the UK leaves the EU.

“The Bill contains unacceptably wide Henry VIII powers, including allowing Ministers to amend or repeal the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by statutory instrument.

“The Bill contains insufficient parliamentary scrutiny of many of the law-making powers given to Ministers, including the setting of exit day.

“Parliament should be given a greater say on the procedure applicable to regulations made by Ministers under the Bill.

“The Government should bring forward separate Bills to confer on the devolved institutions competencies repatriated from the EU. It is inappropriate for an issue of such constitutional importance to be left to secondary legislation.

“Ministers should not have power to impose taxation by statutory instrument.

“Many of the time-limits and other restrictions on Ministers can be circumvented by so-called tertiary legislation, which is law made by public bodies under powers conferred on them by Ministers.” 

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said it was “a thoroughly bad bill” which made a mockery of claims that parliament was taking back control of our laws. 

Civil Service World reported that the latest quarterly statistics on Whitehall’s handling of Freedom of Information Act requests showed that the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Cabinet Office had “particularly poor” response rates. 

DExEU had answered just 15% of the FoI requests it received in the April-June quarter in full – a lower rate than any other department. 68% of requests were denied a response, and the remaining 17% were either answered in part or were still being processed. 

The Cabinet Office had the second-lowest full-disclosure rate, with just 17% of requests answered in their entirety, and 69% declined in full. 

Aaron Cheung of the Institute for Government said: “The lack of transparency in both departments suggests that the public cannot get hold of information about some of the most important activity in government at the moment.” 

Defra had a full-disclosure rate of 39%, while 32% of requests for information were declined in full. 

The trade union Unite said it had asked Defra for a report containing post-Brexit food price projections, which the department had refused, citing section 35 of the Act and a “strong public interest” in non disclosure. The union said it intended to appeal. 

Julia Long, the union’s national officer for food, drink and agriculture, said: “Unite will do everything it can to ensure that this report is published and will hope that other individuals and organisations with similar concerns will also apply pressure for this information to see the light of day.” 

It is as if they had something to hide.