A council has blocked a second bid to make a secret Brexit report public after a challenge by a local democracy reporter.
HTFP reported in May how Carl Jackson, who covers Birmingham City Council for Trinity Mirror and the BBC under the taxpayer-funded scheme, had his Freedom of Information request for the report on the impact of the UK’s EU departure on the city rejected.
Now, the council made a final ruling stating it would “not be in the public interest” to release the document – which was drafted prior to the 2016 referendum.
The authority declared the position has now “significantly moved on” and described the report as “obsolete”, but has pledged to produce an updated impact assessment, alongside the West Midlands Combined Authority, businesses and academics, which will be published at a later date.
However, Carl is currently considering whether to take his case for the original report to be made public to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Carl, pictured, told HTFP: “It is welcome that the council has now committed to publishing a Brexit impact report for Birmingham, whenever that maybe. It is increasingly likely that we will never know what was in that original report and whether it is indeed now ‘obsolete’ as the council states.
“If that is the case, why reveal its existence in the first place? And there has yet to be a satisfactory explanation – or any for that matter – as to why that report was abandoned.
“Nevertheless, here we are two years on from the referendum and in one of the most divided areas of the country on Brexit, the city council has done little to give the public any reassurance or quell any of the uncertainty which has gripped the debate from the very start.
“When other areas have published Brexit impact assessments – Manchester has its own monthly Brexit monitor – Birmingham City Council, on the surface at least, appears to be unprepared for the implications of leaving the European Union.”
The initial report had been produced prior to the referendum, but was not released at the time to avoid influencing the vote.
The latest response to Carl’s challenge states: “The council recognises that there are significant public interest arguments in favour of disclosure, including the general presumption of openness underlying the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and that the public deserve the full facts on Brexit.
“The council also recognises that there are significant countervailing arguments against disclosure, including the obsolete nature of the draft Brexit report and the council would caution that this unfinished draft background report from before the referendum is not disclosed as it would not be in the public interest. Furthermore, the position has now significantly moved on.
“The result of the referendum was to leave the EU and the council are now working with the combined authority, businesses, academics and other partners to assess the implications of Brexit. Once the full implications become known the council will no doubt require further analysis on what it will mean for Birmingham and the wider region, therefore, the council are currently not in a position to disclose the draft Brexit report as it would not be in the public interest.
“The council had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosure and considered these factors in deciding where the public interest lay. The council decided the public interest in maintaining the exemption substantially outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.”