The parliamentary bodies provide essential scrutiny. But as the government embarks on the most immense constitutional challenge in living memory, are they able to do their job properly?by Alex Dean / July 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
Westminster watchers and parliamentary obsessives are used to watching MPs squirm, but late last year there was a classic of the genre.
On 6th December David Davis, then still in the cabinet, appeared before the Brexit Select Committee. The arch-Leaver began in characteristically relaxed fashion, but was quickly put under agonising pressure. There had been a suggestion the government had conducted meticulous impact assessments, judging the effects of departure on different sectors of the British economy. What followed was excruciating to watch.
Hilary Benn, Committee Chair, proceeded to list sectors and asked whether the government really had any evidence. He probed on the automotive industry, then moved to financial services. Davis began to look deeply uncomfortable. Still the political theatre went on. “The answer’s going to be no to all of them,” Davis eventually conceded. No analysis existed, contrary to previous claims.
It was an astonishing admission and generated instant headlines. Shock rippled through Westminster. It was not the first time Benn had caught Davis out. It would not be the last. Dominic Raab, Davis’s replacement, will dread his first appearance in front of the panel.
That wintry afternoon was an illustration of just what select committees can do. At their best, they offer an unrivalled opportunity to pool expertise, publish serious analysis and hold devious ministers to account. They are a crucial cog in Britain’s parliamentary machine.