Dear Permanent Representation of UK to the EU,

With reference to the Freedom of Information Act, I would like to request the following information:

How many meetings have employees of the UK Permanent Representation to the EU had with representatives of companies, organisations and other stakeholders, during the last 12 months?

I would like to request a list of these meetings: who was present at the meeting, including the names of organisations/ lobbyists presents, as well as the date of the meeting, and the subject matter discussed.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Vicky Cann

Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

Dear Vicky Cann,

Thank you for your FOI request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It has been assigned a unique reference number (above) and has been passed to the relevant section within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to deal with. They will be in touch with you should your request need clarification.

We received your request on 29 March 2018 and will aim to respond within 20 working days, following date of receipt.

Yours sincerely

Central FoI Unit
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Cann,

 

Please find attached a response to your recent request under the Freedom
of Information Act 2000.

 

Kind regards,

 

Political Section, UKREP

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References

Visible links
1. http://www.gov.uk/fco
2. http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/

Dear Permanent Representation of UK to the EU,

Thank you for your letter dated 12 April. How many months of data can I request, in your estimation? Would 6 months fit within the 3 1/2 days limit? I look forward to your reply.

Thanks in advance.

Yours faithfully,

Vicky Cann

Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Cann,

 

Please find attached a response to your e-mail of 16 April.

 

Kind regards,

 

Political Section, UKREP

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References

Visible links
1. http://www.gov.uk/fco
2. http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/

Dear Permanent Representation of UK to the EU,

Thank you for your reply dated 4 May to my questions dated 16 April. I note that this response did not really answer my question which was "How many months of data can I request, in your estimation?" and solely told me that my proposal was not acceptable. Please note that I do not wish to ask for sector-specific information.

Perhaps I could again make another proposal: Could I request a list of the lobby meetings (with representatives of companies, organisations and other stakeholders) held by the Permanent Representative and his Deputy in the past 6 months? As before, I would like to request a list of these meetings: who was present at the meeting, including the names of organisations/ lobbyists presents, as well as the date of the meeting, and the subject matter discussed.

If this would breach the £600 limit, I would be grateful if you could make a concrete proposal which would be acceptable on your side. I understand that under Article 16 of FOIA there is a duty to provide adequate advice and assistance.

Yours faithfully,

Vicky Cann

Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

Dear Vicky Cann,

Thank you for your new FOI request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It has been assigned a unique reference number (above) and has been passed to the relevant section within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to deal with. They will be in touch with you should your request need clarification.

We received your request on 09 May 2018 and will aim to respond within 20 working days, following date of receipt.

Yours sincerely

Central FoI Unit
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Cann,

 

Please find attached a letter regarding your recent request under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000.

 

Kind regards,

 

Political Section, UKREP

This email is intended for the addressee(s) only.  All messages sent and
received by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office may be monitored in line
with relevant [1]UK legislation

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...

Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Cann,

 

Please find attached a letter related to your recent Freedom of
Information request. May I offer my apologies for the further delay in
providing you with a substantive reply.  We hope to be in a position to
provide this shortly.

 

Kind regards,

 

Corporate Section, UKREP

 

This email is intended for the addressee(s) only.  All messages sent and
received by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office may be monitored in line
with relevant [1]UK legislation

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...

Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Cann,

 

Please find attached a response to your recent Freedom of Information
request.

 

Kind regards,

 

UKREP

This email is intended for the addressee(s) only.  All messages sent and
received by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office may be monitored in line
with relevant [1]UK legislation

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...

Dear Permanent Representation of UK to the EU,

Review of decision: 0536-18

I am writing to ask for a review of the way in which the above freedom of information request has been handled, with a view to obtaining the requested information.

On 28 March 2018 I asked, “How many meetings have employees of the UK Permanent Representation to the EU had with representatives of companies, organisations and other stakeholders, during the last 12 months? I would like to request a list of these meetings: who was present at the meeting, including the names of organisations/ lobbyists presents, as well as the date of the meeting, and the subject matter discussed”. This was registered as 0370-18.

On 12 April 2018 the UKREP told me: “Your request as presently formulated is widely-framed and I estimate that it will take more than 3 ½ working days to locate, retrieve and extract this information, if indeed all the information requested is available. Gathering the information would require the vast majority of UKREP staff (those who have external meetings) to go through their records for the past 12 months. In these circumstances we are not obliged under the Act to comply with your request. You may therefore wish to refine your request to narrow its scope to bring it within the appropriate limit.”

On 18 April 2018, I asked the UKREP: “How many months of data can I request, in your estimation? Would 6 months fit within the 3 1/2 days limit? I look forward to your reply.”

Regrettably, the UKREP reply on 4 May 2018 did not provide further clarity.

On 8 May 2018, I further refined my request: “Perhaps I could again make another proposal: Could I request a list of the lobby meetings (with representatives of companies, organisations and other stakeholders) held by the Permanent Representative and his Deputy in the past 6 months? As before, I would like to request a list of these meetings: who was present at the meeting, including the names of organisations/ lobbyists presents, as well as the date of the meeting, and the subject matter discussed. If this would breach the £600 limit, I would be grateful if you could make a concrete proposal which would be acceptable on your side. I understand that under Article 16 of FOIA there is a duty to provide adequate advice and assistance.” This was registered as 0536-18.

The deadline for a response was extended two times, so I was therefore very disappointed to receive an eventual response on 20 August 2018 which refused to provide any of the requested information on the grounds of it being “exempt under Section 36(2)(b)(i) and (ii) of the FOIA (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) and Section 27 (c) and (d) (international relations). We also consider some of the information is exempt from release under Section 40 of the FOIA (personal information).”

I challenge the application of each of these three exceptions:

Section 36
The UKREP states that release of the information would “inhibit the free and frank provision of advice and a candid exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. This is because it risks constraining future activity by the UK Permanent Representation (UKREP)”. Yet the UKREP has failed to demonstrate precisely how the provision of a list of meetings with the names of the lobby groups present and the topic of the meeting would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. It is difficult to grasp a causal link between providing a list of meetings containing merely the topic of the meeting and the participants, and the likelihood this could inhibit the provision of advice or a candid exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. I understand that this is the opinion of an FCO Minister, but I seriously question whether this is in fact reasonable given the nature of my request, and I ask that it be reconsidered.

The UKREP has in addition failed to demonstrate how this exception applies to the entirety of the information requested. I note that guidance from the UK Information Commissioner (ICO) on Section 36 states that “an opinion formed purely on the basis of a ‘blanket ruling’ may not be reasonable if it does not take account of the circumstances at the time of the request.” Such circumstances include both the specific nature of the meetings about which I am requesting information as well as the public interest test which I set out below.

The UKREP has failed to demonstrate that it has appropriately considered the public interest in disclosing the information requested. The UKREP states that “The EU is a complex organisation and one of the most lobbied in the world; UKREP needs to be able to understand the perspective of those stakeholders, and indeed influence their views and activities, in order to inform and deliver UK objectives in Europe.” Yet in my view, such a position clearly argues in favour of disclosure of the information, since its disclosure would permit the public to know whether the UKRep is meeting with a sufficiently wide range of stakeholders.

The UKREP argues that “it is our considered view that the net effect of disclosing information about who UKREP meets would be to narrow the field of stakeholders with which we could engage. Some of the meetings that UKREP have are on sensitive subjects and with organisations – including civil society groups – that have sensitive relationships with some third countries.”

But the UK government already releases meetings data relating to government ministers, special advisers and senior officials; and the high numbers of meetings reported does not appear to have dissauded lobbyists from approaching them. And presumably ministers also hold “sensitive” meetings too. I fail to understand the evidence-base for arguing that disclosing this information will lead to a narrowing of stakeholders met, and why such an argument is exclusively applied to the UKREP.

The UKREP further argues that: “And it might mean that we would get a disproportionate input from certain organisations that are less concerned about their engagement becoming public.”

But this implies that the UKREP is a passive actor in who it meets. The UKREP does not have to meet with organsiations if it considers there is a risk of “disproportionate input”. The UKREP is able to say no to lobbyists who request meetings, if it so chooses.
Indeed, if there was transparency about who the UKREP was meeting, could there not be a good chance that in fact it might widen the group of stakeholders seeking meetings, rather than narrow it, and thus help to ensure that UKREP is in possession of a more rounded set of perspectives on the complexities of the EU, and hence enhancing its decision making?

Furthermore, given the strong public interest in the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, there is a high public interest in scrutinising the way the UK conducts its affairs in Europe in order to have a clearer picture of how it is informing and delivering its policy objectives. There is therefore an overriding public interest in citizens having information about whom the UKREP is meeting.

I urge these arguments and factors to be taken into account in the review of the application of Section 36 to this request.

Section 27
I also challenge the use of Section 27 to deny access to the information I have requested. The UKREP’s argument is that disclosure will lead to speculation about Brexit. I think there is already significant degree of speculation about Brexit and publication of a factual list of meetings held by the UKREP, along the lines that the UK Brexit ministers already do, is hardly likely to make a major difference to the level of speculation. Indeed, the publication of concrete data can surely only enhance a debate such as that on Brexit.

Section 40
Finally, I am challenging the use of Section 40 in this case.

The UKREP says, it “can confirm that had we not applied the Section 36 exemption, then we would have disclosed the names of the organisations but would have exempted from disclosure the names of the individuals met from those organisations”. But has the UKREP adequately considered the fairness aspect in its consideration of the first data protection principle? In Creekside Forum v ICO and Department for Culture Media and Sport (EA/2008/0065, 28 May 2009) the Information Tribunal distinguished between the names of private individuals and junior officials and those of lobbyists: “… the Tribunal is satisfied that no individual working on behalf of or representing an organisation (including lobbying groups) would have an expectation that their details would remain private unless they had expressed a concern. Being representatives of an organisation there would be less general expectation of privacy. The contact details are work or those of the organization concerned rather than home details. They are no doubt accountable to their membership or company and would therefore expect some degree of scrutiny” (paragraph 70). Hence I assert that it is fair for the names of those attending the meeting be disclosed in response to my request, as it is reasonable that unless they expressed a concern, there is an expectation of scrutiny. There is sufficient case law and good practice in the UK on the publication of the names of lobbyists to warrant review by the UKREP of its use of this exception.

In this regard, I note that the ICO guidance states that where an individual attends a meeting in the capacity of an employee, if the employee expresses the views of the organisation, those views, when recorded in the minutes of the meeting, will not be personal data about the employee. Given that the scope of my request is precisely meetings in which the participants are acting in their professional capacities, I argue that it is fair and lawful to disclose this information.

The handling of my request
I would finally like to state that I am disappointed with the handling of my FOI request. The UKREP response dated 4 May 2018 did not provide the concrete advice I had requested and seemed designed to try to close down my request, rather than constructively work with me to help create a request where information would be forthcoming.

I and colleagues have submitted similar requests to other EU member states' Permanent Representations and a number have provided data in response including the Netherlands, Ireland, and Romania. As you say in your letter, there is a “general public interest in transparency”, and I hope that the UK government will decide to prioritise the public interest in its reply and provide the requested data.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Vicky Cann

Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

Dear Vicky Cann,

Thank you for your request for an Internal Review of our response to your FOI Request Ref 0536-18. It has been passed to the relevant department within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to deal with and they will respond to you with the outcome of the review.

We received your request on 13 September 2018 and will aim to respond within 20 working days.

Yours sincerely

Central FOI Unit
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

Dear Ms Cann,

Thank you for your email of 12 September asking for an internal review of Freedom of Information Act request 0536-18.

This email is to confirm receipt of your request and to let you know that the internal review has been undertaken and is now going through our clearance process. You should receive a full reply in the next few days.

Kind regards,

UKREP

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Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

Dear Ms Cann,

Further to our email of 11 October, I am writing to apologise for the delay in providing you with a full reply to your email of 12 September, requesting an internal review of Freedom of Information Act request 0536-18. It is going to take slightly longer to complete our clearance process, but we are working to provide you with a full reply as soon as possible.

Kind regards,

UKREP

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Dear Permanent Representation of UK to the EU,

When will this be answered please?

Yours faithfully,

Vicky Cann

Dear Permanent Representation of UK to the EU,
Please note that my request for an internal review of 0536-18 sent 12 September 2018 has yet to receive a substantive reply. This is an intolerable delay and I request an urgent update or full response by the end of April.
Thanks.
Yours faithfully,

Vicky Cann

UKREP General e-mail address Brussels (Sensitive), Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

Dear Ms Cann,

Many thanks for your email of 4 April. Further to our previous emails responding to you, I am writing to apologise for the delay in providing you with a full reply to your email of 12 September, requesting an internal review of Freedom of Information Act request 0536-18. It has taken longer to complete the internal review process than anticipated, but we will provide you with a full reply as soon as possible, and certainly by the end of April.

Kind regards,

UKREP

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UKREP General e-mail address Brussels (Sensitive), Permanent Representation of UK to the EU

1 Attachment

Dear Ms Cann,

Please find attached a reply to your request.

Kind regards,
UKREP

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