Ministers have been accused of “a shameful attempt” to “dodge scrutiny and erase history before it’s even happened” by demanding that all Government documents relating to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union be bound by the same levels of secrecy as official EU documentation.
The policy, set out in the Government’s position paper on ‘Confidentiality and access to documents’, would restrict officials from disclosing important information about the Brexit process. The release of documents would also be heavily restricted.
Ministers also say that “the UK considers that both parties should agree how access to documents regimes will work after withdrawal.” This means that EU officials could have a say on how freedom of information for Brexit-related documents works in Britain after we leave.
The Open Britain campaign believes this is an attempt by the Government to evade scrutiny and escape historical judgment on the flaws in their approach to Britain’s exit from the EU.
Commenting, Chris Bryant MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said:
“After years of complaining about the EU’s lack of transparency, this smells like a shameful attempt by Ministers to dodge scrutiny and erase history before it’s even happened.
“It’s clear this Government is making a mess of Brexit by putting our economy at risk by leaving the Single Market. But now they are trying to gag civil servants and cover up documents so the British people may never know the extent of their failures and flip flops.
“A Government confident about its ability to negotiate a good Brexit deal would not resort to this kind of secrecy. This position paper tells us all we need to know about the mood in Whitehall.
“Ministers owe it to the British people to be straight with them about the details and the implications of Brexit. They need to urgently rethink their obsession with secrecy and give the public the facts.”
Notes to editors:
Point 9 of the Government’s position paper on ‘Confidentiality and access to documents’ states:
“The UK considers that the approach set out above should apply, as far as possible, to documentation or information which may need to be, created, exchanged or obtained by the UK or the EU after the UK’s withdrawal, pursuant to the Withdrawal Agreement.”
The position paper makes clear the levels of secrecy expected:
“At present, members of the institutions of the Union, the members of committees, and the officials and other servants of the Union are obliged not to disclose certain information obtained in the course of their duties. This obligation is presently set out in Article 339 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article 37 of Protocol 4 to the Treaties.”
“At present, documents originating from the UK and held by the institutions, offices, agencies and bodies of the EU are subject to the disclosure regimes set out in Regulation (EC) 1049/2001 and related Union legal acts. These regimes include specific protection and obligations concerning such documents. Documents held by the UK but originating from the EU are governed by the disclosure regimes set out in UK law, subject to specific obligations arising under Regulation (EC) 1049/2001 and the related Union legal acts. The UK considers that both parties should agree how access to documents regimes will work after withdrawal. The aim would be for the UK and the EU to have equivalent protections and obligations after withdrawal to those in Regulation (EC) 1049/2001 and the related Union legal acts, in relation to documents received prior to the UK’s withdrawal.”