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The madness of talking about talking about Brexit

Theresa May has argued that the release of the studies would weaken negotiations. Credit: AP

Everything that's wrong with so much political discourse about Brexit was on display in the House of Commons this afternoon.

Because, as with so much of the debate about the UK leaving the EU, it was almost all about government process - rather than the substance of precisely what preparations are and should be made for that momentous event and what impact it will have on all our lives.

At issue was the government's refusal to publish 58 "sectoral" studies carried out by civil servants on the impact of Brexit - under trade-deal and no-deal scenarios - on 88% of our economy and 30 million jobs.

Anna Soubry suggested the studies don't paint a rosy picture of our post-Brexit future.

Labour understandably wants to know what Whitehall assesses as the costs and benefits of Brexit. Theresa May and her team argue that the disclosure of such assessments would weaken the government's negotiating position in the Brexit talks.

But as one of the PM's putative allies, Anna Soubry, pointed out, the only plausible explanation for May's coyness is that the studies don't paint a particularly rosy picture of our post-Brexit future.

Labour won the vote on this. The speaker says the vote is binding.

The government will now do its damnedest to prevent publication, or to disclose only those parts of the 58 studies that are anodyne and of little material interest.

And politicians occasionally wonder why the public holds them in such low regard.