Sir Keir was so het up that he was shaking: QUENTIN LETTS on the ding dong over those pesky papers

The Urgent Question was put by Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, so het up he was shaking

The Urgent Question was put by Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, so het up he was shaking

What?huffing and parliamentary puffing we had over some Brexit statistics Whitehall is declining to show MPs.

The Commons worked itself into such indignation that David Davis (absent yesterday) could be found ‘in contempt of Parliament’ – a charge that can see an MP unseated and thrown into the Palace of Westminster jail.

This is a ding-dong infected by priggishness on various sides. The Government commissioned reports from commerce about Brexit, ministers boasting about how jolly impressive those reports were.

Then MPs told the Queen, no less, that she must order ministers to hand the reports to Parliament.

At that point we heard the reports were just columns of boring numbers.

Yet the Government will not publish all the info because it could weaken our negotiating position in Brussels and some of the details were ‘commercially sensitive’.

(Point of information: the EU does not publish all of its statistical gubbins because doing so would betray its hand.)

Europhiles have settled on this squabble as a great principle of parliamentary scrutiny. Displacement activity?

Blairites have realised Jeremy Corbyn does not want to block Brexit and are therefore looking for a smaller matter on which to vent their frustration.

Speaker Bercow is also up for a fight. He always is.

Blairites have realised Jeremy Corbyn does not want to block Brexit and are therefore looking for a smaller matter on which to vent their frustration

Blairites have realised Jeremy Corbyn does not want to block Brexit and are therefore looking for a smaller matter on which to vent their frustration

And so we yesterday had a Labour Urgent Question (granted by Bercow) followed by points of order in which the Speaker presented himself a veritable new Cromwell.

In that Cromwellian revolution, which pitched People versus the Establishment, Parliament sided with the People.?

In this one, Parliament is on, er, the side of Europe. The Urgent Question was put by Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, so het up he was shaking.

While Brexit Secretary Davis might or might not be ‘in contempt’ of Parliament, he was certainly treating Parliament ‘with contempt’, alleged Sir Keir. Labour MPs clucked ‘contempt! contempt!’.

Sir Keir told Mr Davis’s ministerial colleague, young Robin Walker, that he had better watch his step. ‘This is not a game!’ cried Sir Keir.

He was hear-heared enthusiastically by Anna Soubry (Con, Broxtowe). The Tory Chief Whip swivelled in his frontbench seat and narrowed his eyes at her.?

Mr Walker, intimidated a little by the melodrama, spoke more rapidly than normal but he was otherwise tidy and succinct.

He argued that Hilary Benn, chairman of the Commons Brexit select committee, had not given Mr Davis ‘usual’ promises of confidentiality.

The Commons worked itself into such indignation that David Davis (absent yesterday) could be found ‘in contempt of Parliament’

The Commons worked itself into such indignation that David Davis (absent yesterday) could be found ‘in contempt of Parliament’

Sir Keir, very much a lawyer, said the two lever-arch files in which the documents had been placed were no bigger than you would expect of evidence in a ‘pretty routine Crown court case’.?

‘Guilty as charged!’ yelled a Labour wit. ‘I do object to any suggestion I cannot be trusted,’ said Mr Benn. Behind him lurked David Lammy (Lab, Tottenham), harrumphing ‘absolutely!’ When Mr Walker spat out succinct answers, a pudding called Paula Sherriff (Lab, Dewsbury) shrieked: ‘Disgraceful! Embarrassing!’

John Whittingdale (Con, Maldon) said it was not unknown for select committees to leak. Ex-diplomat Richard Graham (Con, Gloucester) said ‘surely no one would want our country to go into the negotiating chamber in a weaker position.’

What touching naivety. Several Eurosceptic MPs want precisely that.

Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest W) enquired who had been the first person to suggest the Government could submit the statistics in edited form. Mr Walker disclosed that the person in question was Sir Keir. Pro-Brexit David Jones (Con, Clwyd West) thought the EU would be loving all this.

Tim Loughton (Con, E Worthing & Shoreham) wanted to see the EU’s own research papers. He was ruled out of order by Mr Bercow, who cares little for him.

Later the Speaker said ‘nothing – nothing! – is more important than respecting the House’.?

Oh dear. I don’t know where that leaves those of us, possibly a majority, who look at such shenanigans and simply discern a petulant parliamentary class kicking and screaming because it does not want to do what the electorate firmly told it to do 18 months ago.?

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