The composition of commons committees is tradition set to reflect the make-up of parliament with the governing party normally granted a majority of MPs on all committees – this was contentious in the current parliament since the government has no overall majority. The committees are supposed to be non-partisan, but that is like expecting junior school boys to like and play with junior school girls and vice versa. Any impartial observers will have concluded that David Davis, the minister responsible for leaving the EU, misled parliament about the extent and even existence of sectoral analyses carried out on the effect of leaving the EU on British businesses; indeed there were calls for him to be held in contempt of parliament, but the matter was deferred to the Brexit committee which spilt on party lines and concluded that Davis had not misled parliament (an excellent timeline of relevant statements by Mr Davis would call this finding into doubt).
Not all Tory MPs are rabid Brexit enthusiasts and this is also reflected on the Brexit Committee which has published its report on the future of UK-EU relationship. The report was approved on a 10-6 majority (with the Brexit supporters opposing it in its entirety) and calls for the UK to leave open the options of EEA or EFTA membership should the government’s preferred option for a “deep and special partnership” fail to be secured (as seems highly likely). The report contains a 15-key point test to evaluate the government’s eventual deal with the EU which are based on pledges made by government since the Brexit vote.
The committee chairman, Hillary Benn, noted: “Our tests set a high bar but they are based on the prime minister’s vision for our future outside the EU and the statement by the secretary of state for exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, that any new deal would be at least as good as what we have now. It is vital that UK businesses are able to continue to trade freely and sell services into our largest market after we leave, without additional costs or burdens or a hard border in Northern Ireland and that we maintain close cooperation on defence, security, data and information sharing and consumer safety. Should negotiations on a ‘deep and special partnership’ not prove successful, we consider that Efta/EEA membership remains an alternative which would have the advantage of continuity of access for UK services and could also be negotiated relatively quickly.”
The 15-key tests include elements relating to the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland and free-flow of data between the UK and EU after Brexit together with cooperation on crime and terrorism issues. It also stated that free trade should also continue between the EU and UK (as it does currently under single market conditions) and the maintenance of convergence with EU regulations – so hardly a surprise that Brexit MPs rejected it completely.
A spokesman for DexEU reacted with the official line: “As the prime minister said at Mansion House, the UK government is seeking the broadest and deepest possible partnership with the EU, covering more sectors and cooperating more fully than any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today. When we leave the EU we will leave the single market and customs union so that we take back control of our money, laws and borders. To do otherwise will see us forever implementing, in their entirety, new EU legislation over which we will have had no say and leave us with less control over our trade policy than we have now.”
However, the official position and reality are very poorly aligned in the opinion of most observers.