Brexit paper 'leaked to undermine EU exit', minister claims
30 January 2018, 14:06
An assessment of the likely impact of various Brexit scenarios was leaked to undermine the exit talks, a Government minister has claimed.
The study, obtained by BuzzFeed News, found the country would be worse off under every Brexit scenario modelled, with the much-vaunted benefits of new trade deals predicted to add just 0.3% to GDP in the long-term.
Responding to calls for the full document to be made public, Brexit minister Steve Baker told MPs the paper was a "preliminary analysis" and the reporting of it was a "selective interpretation".
He also cast doubt on the accuracy of economic forecasts generally, telling the Commons there is "huge uncertainty" around such work and "these analyses have proven to be wrong in the wake of the referendum".
Mr Baker added: "It [the leak] is an attempt to undermine our exit from the European Union."
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The leak comes amid a febrile atmosphere within the Conservative party over Brexit, with recriminations raging over both the handling of Britain's EU exit and Theresa's May leadership.
In a deepening of the Tory civil war on Europe, senior MP Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Chancellor Philip Hammond of "freelancing" on Brexit.
The impact assessment, titled EU Exit Analysis - Cross Whitehall Briefing, claims growth would be 8% less over 15 years if Britain is unable to negotiate a deal with Brussels.
Even the softest Brexit option - remaining in the bloc's single market - would see growth decline by 2% over the same period, it found.
And the recouped gains of new trade deals struck with the US, and other major world economies, would make up just 10% of the losses in growth, the analysis projected.
Mrs May has sought to play down the significance of the leak, telling her Cabinet that the paper represented "initial work" by officials and has not been signed off by ministers.
She told them that the analysis had not looked at the economic impact of achieving a "bespoke" trade deal, which is the Government's aim in the exit talks, and had instead considered a range of "off-the-shelf" scenarios.
But the leak has prompted calls from opposition parties for the details to be released in full.
A letter from the APPG on EU Relations co-ordinated by pro-EU campaign Open Britain and sent to Brexit Secretary David Davis demanding the study is published has garnered 50 signatures from MPs.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons that Mr Baker's response was "not good enough".
He called on ministers to release details of the impact of Brexit, accusing the Government of "piling absurdity upon absurdity".
Sir Keir said: "We have been here before. It took a great deal of time last year and the use of a humble address to force the Government to release documents relating to Brexit.
"(Mr Davis) has a chance today to avoid a repeat of that exercise if he commits to publishing that new analysis in full. Will he do so?"
Mr Baker replied by saying the leaked economic analysis is "not what is formally known as an impact assessment", a statement that was met with sarcastic clapping by former Labour minister Chris Leslie and heckling from other opposition MPs.
He said Labour's strategy on Brexit was becoming clear for all to see - "demoralisation, delay and revocation".
Labour MP Hilary Benn said the furore was a "shambles" as the PM's "bitterly divided" Cabinet was at odds with itself over what the "bespoke deal" should look like.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said Mrs May's "mask was slipping" and the true cost of Brexit was being revealed.
Prominent Brexiteers, however, have pointed out that many of the pre-referendum economic forecasts had proven to be wide of the mark.
Former Cabinet minister and Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the leak was "highly suspicious" and previous analyses had proven to be "completely wrong".
Mr Rees-Mogg, chair of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, told Sky News the claim that a hard exit could hit economic growth by 8% was "simply wrong".
And in comments that will fuel the internal Tory debate over Europe, Mr Rees-Mogg told Sky News that recent comments from Chancellor Hammond had been "very unhelpful" and he was "making himself a semi-detached member of the Cabinet".
Mr Hammond has come under fire from Brexiteers for saying the UK and EU economies would diverge "very modestly" after Brexit.
(c) Sky News 2018: Brexit paper 'leaked to undermine EU exit', minister claims