MEP in court action to secure public access to Brexit impact studies

The High Court will this morning hear an oral application for permission to apply for judicial review to compel the production, in public, of the studies the government continues to withhold on the economic impacts of Brexit. Molly Scott Cato MEP and Jolyon Maugham QC of the Good Law Project have been pressing for the release of impact studies on 58 sectors of the economy – which government ministers made public reference to on a number of occasions – and a report prepared by HM Treasury, comparing the predicted economic detriment of Brexit with the potential benefits of alternative free trade arrangements [1].

Molly and Mr Maugham say there has been a ‘deliberate muddying of the waters’ over the release of the studies and are continuing to push for full release because the information is “of very considerable importance in informing public debate about the current negotiations regarding the UK’s proposed departure from the European Union [2].”

Molly said:

“The oral hearing today is about standing up for the public’s right to be as fully informed as possible as we prepare to leave the EU. You can’t build a road without a publicly available impact study, but apparently, it’s OK to drag a nation through one of the biggest changes in our lifetimes without allowing people to understand the consequences.

“The government has muddied the water over these studies. Before Christmas there was the publication of some lazy cut-and-paste work whose only purpose was to misdirect attention from the real studies. Then there was the selective and secretive release of some information to MPs in private before a Buzzfeed leak which seemed to reveal – in part at least – exactly what we had been requesting. But this information has not, of course, been made fully available to the public.

“The fact is, we still don’t know what the government is hiding. We need to force the government’s hand and make sure that any studies which are in the public interest are put in the public domain.”

An application for judicial review was refused in January on the grounds that an “adequate alternative remedy” exists, namely through Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. However, Scott Cato and Maugham, the claimants in the case, will renew their application at an oral hearing today. They say they have a claim under the common law powers and based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They will also argue that the FoI process is too slow to enable release of the papers prior to the anticipated date of our departure from the EU. A FoI request last year was refused on the grounds that releasing the information would “prejudice international relations.” 

Jolyon Maugham QC added:

“The British public are not children. We are not to be protected by a paternalistic Government from understanding what it knows to be the consequences for us of leaving the EU. What Government knows, what MPs know, what journalists know through leaks, and what the EU knows from its own studies, we, the British people, are entitled to know too.”

[1] See previous releases, letters and articles relating to the Brexit impact studies here

[2] See Claimants Grounds for Seeking Reconsideration