Brexit Secretary David Davis looks set to avoid an investigation for contempt of Parliament amid an embarrassing row about the publication of economic impact assessments that do not exist.
The influential Brexit Committee voted that Mr Davis had honoured demands to hand over detailed economic analysis by the Government on the impact of Brexit on various sectors, which a Commons vote compelled him to release.
The row centres on claims by Mr Davis that his department was carrying out “57 sets of analyses” on various sectors but when pressed by MPs to publish the documents, he later claimed the work did not exist in that form.
Dragged before the committee to explain himself, he admitted to MPs the Government had failed to carry out economic forecasts on the impact of the EU withdrawal on the UK economy.
The news prompted calls for his resignation and for contempt proceedings to be brought against him for misleading Parliament.
But Tory and DUP committee members decided that he had complied with Parliament’s demand for information as the papers do not exist, casting the prospect of future contempt proceedings into doubt.
In a resolution, the committee said: “That, in view of the statement that no impact assessments have been undertaken, the Committee considers that the Government’s response to the resolution of the House of 1 November has complied with the terms of that resolution.”
However pro-Remain Labour MP Chuka Umunna said he had written to Speaker John Bercow, urging him to consider whether Mr Davis had misled Parliament.
He posted on Twitter: “In light of the finding of the [committee] this evening that the Brexit impact assessments don’t exist, I have written to the Speaker to ask him to consider whether the Government have misled the House of Commons since the Brexit Secretary told us last year they did exist.”
It comes after Mr Davis told the committee that the usefulness of such documents was thought to be “near zero” as leaving the EU would provoke a “paradigm change” in the UK economy.
The Brexit Secretary informed MPs as early as last December that his department was “in the midst of carrying out about 57 sets of analyses” on different parts of the economy.
In a television interview in June he said: “In my job I don’t think out loud and I don’t make guesses. Those two things. I try and make decisions. You make those based on the data. That data is being gathered. We’ve got 50, nearly 60, sectoral analyses already done.”
In October, he told Mr Benn’s committee that Ms May had read “summary outcomes” of impact assessments, which he said went into “excruciating detail”.
As a result he was compelled to release some 850 pages of analysis that his Brexit Department has carried out, following a parliamentary vote in November.
The revelation that no assessments exist was branded a “dereliction of duty” by Labour MP Seema Malhotra, while Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said: “This is beyond farcical. Davis is either grossly incompetent, or someone who struggles with the truth and treats MPs with contempt. Either way, he should be out of his job.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called for “Dexit: an exit from the duplicity and dither of David Davis” as he called for the removal of a minister who he said had “misled Parliament and … turned incompetence into an art form”.
Several MPs including Labour’s David Lammy and the SNP’s Pete Wishart approached the Speaker to ask whether contempt proceedings could be triggered.
But Mr Bercow said he would await the conclusions of the committee before considering the issue.