THE Cabinet Office has refused to say how many times a committee on the Union has met while Rishi Sunak has been Prime Minister.

The National lodged a Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking for the number of meetings chaired by the PM and other Cabinet ministers discussing the Union since Sunak took over in Number 10 on October 25 2022.

There is very little information publicly available about the Domestic and Economic Affairs (Union) Cabinet sub-committee, other than that it is chaired by Sunak and other ministers including Scottish Secretary Alister Jack take part in the meetings.

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However, the Cabinet Office has refused to even release the number of meetings held, claiming that the information is exempt from disclosure.

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard, who is currently embroiled in a four-year battle with the Cabinet Office over polling regarding attitudes to the Union that they have refused to release, called the response “astonishing”.

A previous FOI request from The National to establish how many times the Union Strategy Committee met under Boris Johnson was also refused in October 2021.

The Cabinet Office claimed in its latest refusal that disclosing how many meetings have been held is exempt because it refers to “ministerial communications”.

The National:

They suggested that disclosing the number of meetings would “weaken Minister’s ability to discuss controversial and sensitive topics free from premature public scrutiny”.

Referring to whether or not disclosure would be in the public interest, the Cabinet Office argued that ministers should be able to “discuss policy freely and frankly” and that the “candour of all involved” could be impacted by any disclosure.

The National did not ask for the details of any discussions held, just the number of meetings that had taken place.

“Taking into account all the circumstances of this case,” the response said, “I have concluded that the balance of the public interest favours withholding this information”.

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Sheppard, the SNP’s Scotland spokesperson at Westminster, hit out at the response from the Cabinet Office.

“It’s astonishing, the response reads like it's a template they put out to any request,” he said.

“They haven’t even acknowledged that it’s asking how many times the committee has met, not the content of the meetings.

“The Freedom of Information department should be renamed the Department for Withholding Information.

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“It seems to be there to just completely ignore and undermine the principle of Freedom of Information.

“It shows the contempt that they have for it, they are serial offenders.”

Sheppard (above) has been battling the UK Government to release secretive polling on the Union since 2019. The Cabinet Office’s refusal to publish the data it holds was first heard at a First-Tier Tribunal in 2021, which ruled that ministers should release the information - but they still haven’t.

The SNP MP is still awaiting the latest court judgment after the case was taken to an Upper Tribunal in September this year.

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“It’s not difficult to say if the committee has met, it’s just complete stonewalling,” Sheppard said.

“It should not require a torturous legal procedure to get simple information out of the UK Government.”

The National previously asked the Cabinet Office for details on the Cabinet Union Strategy Committee (CUSC), which replaced the Union Unit after it lost two leaders in the space of two weeks.

The National:

Sunak and Michael Gove (above), then minister for intergovernmental relations, and the Secretaries of State for the devolved nations were understood to be members, as well as former prime minister Johnson.

But, officials kept any details about meetings or what content was discussed under wraps.

Eventually, Gove did confirm its existence and that it had met in person after The National probed him on it, but he refused to give any further details.