New research of FOI requests shows Government is keeping public in the dark over Brexit - People's Vote

New research of FOI requests shows Government is keeping public in the dark over Brexit

New research by the People’s Vote campaign reveals that the public is being kept in the dark over Brexit by the Government, as only 20-25% of all Freedom of Information requests are answered by Brexit-related Departments, and DExEU refuses to release any information at all for over half of all requests.

Examples of information blocked from release include secret surveys about business opinion on Brexit, bonus pay for mandarins, documents about meetings with foreign politicians, and taxpayers’ money spent on private management consultancies to help with Brexit work.

The revelations come as Peter Kyle MP writes to the Permanent Secretary for Cabinet Office, John Manzoni, calling for a review of the Departments operations, to ensure public accountability and access to adequate information about the Government’s Brexit work for ordinary members of the public.

 

Commenting, Peter Kyle MP, leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said:

“The Government’s astonishing lack of transparency around Brexit is a national scandal, and is part of the reason why we’ve ended up in the mess we’re in now. The Government departments charged with dealing directly with Brexit are deliberately obfuscating and hiding the many unpleasant realities of the process from the public.

“The truth they’re trying to hide is that the Government’s proposed Brexit would severely harm our economy and is much worse than our existing deal inside the EU. I have written to the Chief Executive of the Civil Service to demand urgent answers, because the British public deserve to have all the information about Brexit available to them.

“Because of the failure to be open and transparent, the public have lost confidence in the Government’s ability to handle the Brexit process properly. That’s why more and more people are rallying behind the calls for a People’s Vote, to give the people the final say.”

 

Notes to editors

The Brexit Department, International Trade Department, the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Office have the lowest percentage of FOI requests granted in full across all of Whitehall.

Only 20-25% of FOI requests to the Brexit-related Departments are answered in full.

 

Department

FOI requests granted in full

Wales Office

80%

Scotland Office

67%

Department for Transport

62%

Department for Education

59%

Attorney General's Office

55%

Department for Work and Pensions

54%

Ministry of Defence

54%

Northern Ireland Office

53%

UK Export Finance

51%

Department for International Development

48%

WHITEHALL AVERAGE

44%

Department of Health and Social Care

39%

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

38%

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

37%

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

34%

Home Office

34%

HM Treasury

32%

Ministry of Justice

31%

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

28%

Cabinet Office

26%

Department for International Trade

25%

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

23%

Department for Exiting the European Union

21%

(Average percentage of FOI requests answered in full by Departments between July 2016 and June 2017 (latest available data), Cabinet Office statistics, 20 September 2018, link)

 

The below tables set out, for all Brexit-related departments, the total number of all FOI requests received per quarter, and the number of cases in which the Department withheld all information.

It shows that the Brexit Department routinely refuses to release anything at all in over half of its response to requests.

Overall, since Brexit the Departments collectively refused to release any information in over 2,500 cases.

 

Cabinet Office

Q3 2016

Q4 2016

Q1 2017

Q2 2017

Q3 2017

Q4 2017

Q1 2018

Q2 2018

ALL

Total requests

225

207

192

223

215

258

269

226

1,815

Fully withheld

116

108

108

153

128

149

160

133

1,055

 

58%

(Average percentage of FOI requests answered in full by Departments between July 2016 and June 2017 (latest available data), Cabinet Office statistics, 20 September 2018, link)

 

DEXEU

Q3 2016

Q4 2016

Q1 2017

Q2 2017

Q3 2017

Q4 2017

Q1 2018

Q2 2018

ALL

Total requests

38

73

138

96

134

187

129

103

898

Fully withheld

15

34

102

65

74

90

62

65

507

 

56%

(Average percentage of FOI requests answered in full by Departments between July 2016 and June 2017 (latest available data), Cabinet Office statistics, 20 September 2018, link)

 

DIT

Q3 2016

Q4 2016

Q1 2017

Q2 2017

Q3 2017

Q4 2017

Q1 2018

Q2 2018

ALL

Total requests

30

76

71

57

94

159

113

81

681

Fully withheld

7

32

29

16

34

88

38

39

283

 

41%

(Average percentage of FOI requests answered in full by Departments between July 2016 and June 2017 (latest available data), Cabinet Office statistics, 20 September 2018, link)

 

Foreign Office

Q3 2016

Q4 2016

Q1 2017

Q2 2017

Q3 2017

Q4 2017

Q1 2018

Q2 2018

ALL

Total requests

229

216

240

245

217

255

263

246

1,911

Fully withheld

87

78

96

108

74

103

85

76

707

 

37%

(Average percentage of FOI requests answered in full by Departments between July 2016 and June 2017 (latest available data), Cabinet Office statistics, 20 September 2018, link)

 

The Departments refuse to release information that is held and should be released to the public.

The Brexit Department has refused to release research it commissioned from the National Centre for Social Research, which contained a survey of business opinion on how Brexit will impact their operations, despite holding the documents.

REF: DEX001386

 

The Foreign Office has refused to release figures for how much money the Department spends on Brexit advice by private management consultancy firms. This is despite the fact that spending items are classified by purpose in Departments’ records, and other Departments releasing this information.

REF: 1144-19

 

The Brexit Department has refused to release documents that the Department transferred £1 million of taxpayers’ money to the Department for International Trade for, citing “professional services”. The reason given was that this would prejudice commercial interests.

REF: DEX001473

 

The Brexit Department has refused to release information about a meeting held by Ministers with German politician Edmund Stoiber, former Leader of the German CDU, despite holding the information.

REF: DEX001320

 

The Department for International Trade refused to release figures for how much staff were paid in bonuses, despite holding the information and other Departments releasing this information.

REF: 03620

 

The full text of the letter from Peter Kyle MP to John Manzoni, the Chief Executive of the Civil Service, is below:

John Manzoni

Chief Executive of the Civil Service

Cabinet Office

70 Whitehall

Westminster

London

SW1A 2AS

 

Dear John 

I was deeply concerned to discover that only 20-25% of all Freedom of Information requests received by the Cabinet Office, Foreign Office, Department for Exiting the European Union, and Department for International Trade are answered in full by officials.

More worryingly, the Department for Exiting the European Union, in response to over half of all requests, refuses to release any information at all. This puts the department at the bottom of a transparency ranking for all Whitehall departments. 

I was struck by the fact that examples of information blocked from release include surveys about business opinion on Brexit, figures for bonus pay for officials, documents about meetings with foreign politicians, and taxpayers’ money spent on private management consultancies to help with Brexit work. 

As you know, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 sets out that “any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled […] to have that information communicated to him”.

I therefore urge you to immediately investigate the reasons why the aforementioned departments are so disproportionately unlikely to release full information to the public. I believe that this would be in the public interest, to ensure public accountability and access to adequate information about the Government’s Brexit work for ordinary members of the public.

I look forward to your response. 

Kind Regards,

Peter Kyle MP