Is the government hiding the worst of Brexit?

Government’s refusal to publish impact assessments and civil servants worried about lack of planning for ‘no deal’ possibility suggest it is.

Before the prime minister triggered Article 50, the Brexit secretary David Davis admitted to MPs that his department had not done an economic impact assessment on a ‘no deal’ scenario. This is despite the government’s claim that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. Around the same time a report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs committee warned “the possibility of ‘no deal’ is real enough to justify planning for it.” It went on to say “the previous government’s decision not to instruct key departments to plan for a ‘leave’ vote in the EU referendum amounted to gross negligence” and that “making an equivalent mistake would constitute a serious dereliction of duty by the present administration”. But Theresa May triggered Article 50 anyway.

Six months into Article 50 negotiations, we now know the government has conducted Brexit-related impact assessments. In a letter responding to a request by Green MEP Molly Scott Cato, Brexit minister David Jones said the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) “has conducted analysis of over 50 sectors of the economy.” After challenging ministers to publish these assessments, Tory MP Steve Baker, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DExEU wrote to Cato: “it would not be appropriate to publish analysis that would risk damaging our negotiating position.”

You can see the letter as tweeted by Cato below:

So at first we were told the government had done no economic impact assessments for Brexit. Now, it seems the government has at least taken the care to do some impact assessments on Brexit. It just refuses to publish them. On her website, Cato said the government’s refusal to publish the impact assessments only weakens its negotiating position as it suggests “the studies reveal Brexit will have a negative impact on the UK.”

To conceal studies under the guise that it weakens the government’s negotiating position can mean only one thing: that the studies reveal Brexit will have a negative impact on the UK.

If the findings were in any way positive and backed-up their hard Brexit folly, or strengthened their negotiating hand, you can bet they would have been released long ago. The government is running scared. It knows that the impacts of Brexit will be disastrous on our economy.

Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West

In the Financial Times, James Blitz writes: “the government’s unwillingness to publish these documents means the public remains in the dark about Whitehall’s internal analysis over the economic impact of Brexit.” Given the decisions that still need to be made – surely, it’s time for the public and Parliament to be out of the dark?

Blitz reports that several of these could influence the Brexit debate including the analysis of various negotiating outcomes on 50-plus sectors. Another is one on the economic benefits of new free trade deals with non-EU countries. It’s suggested the study shows that staying in the customs union is far more beneficial than the UK’s ability to forge its own trade agreements. Of course, whilst in the EU, the UK also benefits from the trade agreements the bloc has with countries around the world including the recently signed Canada deal. There is also evidence to show the overwhelming benefit of staying in the single market. Research by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research showed that even if the UK agreed new trade deals with a host of countries as well as with the EU, they still would not make up for the loss of single market membership.

New trade deals won’t make up for single market loss


Civil servants also worried about ‘no deal’ and lack of planning for it

To add to this, it seems civil servants in DExEU are concerned about the lack of preparation for ‘no deal’ despite it now being a low possibility. James Forsyth in the Spectator writes: “I understand that civil servants in David Davis’s Department for Exiting the European Union have taken to writing emails setting out the problems, chiefly to ensure that their backs are covered should any Chilcot-style inquiry look into what went wrong.” In similar sentiments offered by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs committee, Forsyth goes on to wonder whether the lack of planning for ‘no deal’ is due to “incompetence, complacency – or a more cynical desire to rule out this option by stealth.”

Perhaps it’s simply that they’ve seen the impact assessments and know just how bad a Brexit that would be.

Image: © Dominic Dudley /
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