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No public interest in disclosing details on border discussions after Brexit says HM Revenue and Customs

By Paul Francis

The government is under fire for refusing to disclose details of how Brexit could impact on Kent - because it would not be in the public interest to do so.

HM Revenue and Customs has rejected a Freedom of Information request from the KM Group for the details of discussions of the Border Planning Group.

The group of senior Whitehall civil servants has been set up to scrutinise departmental planning for border-related issues - such as security and customs checks - arising from Brexit.

Lorries queued on the A20 heading into Dover. There are concerns Brexit may lead to increased border checks for lorries, leading to large queues
Lorries queued on the A20 heading into Dover. There are concerns Brexit may lead to increased border checks for lorries, leading to large queues

It says while it holds relevant information about the potential impact on Kent - including Operation Stack and Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover - it would not be in the public interest to disclose it.

It said releasing the requested information would be likely to “curtail the space in which officials operate to develop, test, and converse on policy options in order to advance ideas and prepare them for a decision and implementation.”

Ministers and officials needed the “opportunity to develop and consider a full range of options to enable balanced decisions to be reached.”

Labour South East MEP John Howarth said the decision was an abuse of the Freedom of Information legislation.

"The public interest clause...was not intended to conceal the facts on which policy is based from the public.

"People in Kent have the moral right to know the evidence about the effects of the various implications of different forms of Brexit on their roads, towns and villages."

"People in Kent have the moral right to know the evidence about the effects of the various implications of different forms of Brexit on their roads, towns and villages..." - John Howarth MEP

It was “utter nonsense” to suggest publication of facts would undermine the UK's negotiating position, he added.

Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke said he accepted that there was a case for the group to meet in private.

“There are often times during negotiations when some plans must remain confidential. Otherwise you risk revealing your hand to the other side.”

It is not the first time that the government has refused information about the impact of Brexit on Kent. The Department for Transport last year refused to give any information about its plans to address congestion and disruption across the county’s road network.

It said it would not be in the public interest to release details because the government’s negotiating position could be damaged “at this sensitive stage of the department’s planning for exiting the EU.”

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