May's government withheld more than half of all information requests last year -- and the Brexit department was the worst offender

Jack Taylor/Getty ImagesBrexit Secretary David Davis (L) and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox leave No 10 Downing Street
  • Theresa May’s government withheld more than 50% of Freedom Of Information requests last year.
  • The Brexit Department was the least transparent of all government departments.
  • The government has become more opaque as time has gone on, new report shows.
  • David Cameron promised to create a “new era of transparency” under the Conservatives.

LONDON – The UK government withheld more than half of all Freedom Of Information requests last year – and the Department for Exiting The European Union was the least transparent across all departments.

A new Institute For Government report, which you can read here, shows that UK government departments either fully or partially withheld over 50% of information in 2016-2017.

In 2011, David Cameron promised that the Conservative government would create a “new era of transparency.”

“Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats,” he wrote.

“In so many ways, information is a national asset, and it’s time it was shared.”

However, today’s IfG report shows that government departments have become less transparent as time has gone on.

For example, in Q3 of 2010 (July-September) 39% FOI requests were either fully or partially withheld. Yet, in Q3 of 2017, 52% of requests were not responded to in full.

The most opaque government department last year was the Brexit Department (DExEU), led by David Davis.

As the chart below illustrates, the department for delivering Britain’s exit from the European Union responded to just 18%, 10% and 15% in 2016-2017.

UK government freedom of information requestsInstitute for Government

“Departments are withholding more information in response to Freedom of Information requests, with the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) one of the most opaque,” the report’s author Gavin Freeguard said.

“This is one example of a wider lack of transparency around Brexit. Publication of spending and organisational data remains patchy, suggesting departments are not using the data themselves.”

Rivalling DExEU to be the least transparent department are the Department for International Trade and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, both set up last year.

DIT, led by Liam Fox, was established as part of the government’s “global Britain” mission in preparation for signing new free trade deals around the world once Britain has left the European Union.

UK government freedom of informationInstitute For Government

Not once did DIT grant more than 40% of Freedom Of Information requests in full.

A DExEU spokesperson told Business Insider it was essential to protect sensitive information during the negotiation process.

“The Department’s purpose is to negotiate our successful exit from the European Union, and therefore a significant amount of our work is sensitive,” they said.

“We always strive to balance our commitment to transparency with the need to protect sensitive information that could affect our negotiating position.”

DIT has not yet responded to Business Insider’s request for comment.

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