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Leaving the Eu: Customs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 16th May 2018.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 4:31 pm, 16th May 2018

The hon. Gentleman has just been advised of how little time there is for debate. If he has his name down to speak, he will get his time. If he has not put his name down to speak, I am sorry, but those who have put their name down get precedence.

Would it not be so much better if the Government were simply prepared to trust Parliament with that information in the first place? The Government’s response was not only predictable but was so predictable that I wrote what I am saying now before they responded. They say there is a long-established convention that Cabinet papers are confidential. They say routine publication would prejudice the smooth and efficient operation of Government. They say that publication would place in the public domain sensitive information that could compromise our negotiating position.

I accept there are occasions, maybe the majority of occasions, when any or all of those considerations should predominate and the balance of argument should be against disclosure, but the motion before us does not ask for the automatic release of everything the Cabinet ever does; it asks for the release of some papers in relation to Brexit that the Opposition, including the SNP, believe need to be made available to Parliament in the unique circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

The Government keep telling us we are in an unprecedented situation, and then they ask us to be dictated to by precedent in a situation that is unprecedented. Yes, the confidentiality of Cabinet papers is an ancient convention. In fact, we are reminded that the convention goes back to the days of King George III—that great, wise and all-caring monarch whose glorious reign has been immortalised in film as “The Madness of King George”. What better metaphor could we have for the Brexit process?

If the Government are so thirled to sticking to the fine detail of these honourable conventions, why on earth has the Foreign Secretary still got a job? He has earned more red and yellow cards in two years than Vinnie Jones did in his entire career, but he is still on the pitch—the Foreign Secretary is not on the subs bench just now, obviously—arguing in public with the manager over what the team tactics should be, while some of his colleagues try desperately to calm him down before he gets suspended permanently. In the interests of strict accuracy, I should say that Vinnie Jones is only ninth in the world record list for red cards—or 10th, if we include the Foreign Secretary.

We must also consider the argument that releasing these papers would not be conducive to the smooth and efficient running of Government business. We do not need to release Cabinet papers to prevent the smooth and efficient running of Government business, as the Cabinet is perfectly capable of doing that for itself. The main Opposition party tabled this motion because it is becoming terrifyingly clear that those in the Cabinet are making a bigger mess of the Brexit process every time they meet to try to fix it.