Why won’t the government publish its reports on the impact of Brexit?

The two most commonly suggested reasons don't work. 

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Why is the government so worried about publishing its reports on the economic impact of Brexit?

There are two arguments that we can quickly dispatch with. The first, made by the government itself and by Brexit’s boosters in parliament and in the press is that publishing the documents would weaken the United Kingdom’s negotiating hand in Brussels. It is unclear why this is: despite what many pro-Leave politicians appear to believe, the other nations of the European Union are capable of doing their own economic modelling – indeed, you can read the European Parliament’s studies on the impact of Brexit, in English, on its website.

In addition, the member states of the EU are doing their own preparations and their own modelling of what Brexit’s consequences will be. The idea that if the British government publishes its own studies then a bunch of politicians in the EU27 will be given a new insight into the consequences of Brexit or the United Kingdom’s strengths and weaknesses in negotiations is a deeply stupid one.

The second bad argument is being made by people who want to reverse the referendum result, which is that the government doesn’t want to publish the studies as they will lay out in full the horrific consequences of Brexit. To repeat: the consequences of Brexit are freely available, in English, on the European Parliament’s website. The vote's consequences for prices are felt in every weekly shop up and down the country.

The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee today said that, in their view, Brexit has limited the United Kingdom’s potential for growth, which is why they are increasing interest rates from 0.25 per cent to 0.5 per cent despite there being a good deal of evidence that the British economy is not performing well enough for rates to begin to return to pre-crisis levels. Frankly, there is not a dearth of warning lights as far as the British economy and Brexit go, and the idea that one more light is going to trigger a rethink is, again, a deeply stupid one.

And it's worth noting that the government's so-called impact assessments aren't 58 detailed diagnoses of the precise impact of Brexit on one section of the economy, but a series of papers that range from overarching analyses to specific assessments on very narrow fields. As Robin Walker, the junior Dexeu minister, noted in the House today, these documents simply do not exist in the form suggested by Labour's motion.

The real problem is that a significant minority of the Conservative parliamentary party regards anything other than a hymn about the glorious post-Brexit future as evidence that the government’s heart is not really in it, and that at the last moment, May will do a deal that is not really Brexit.The government releasing figures showing an almost uniformly bleak picture for Britain after Brexit only makes it harder for Downing Street to maintain support within the Conservative Party for the prolonged transition that will be necessary after March 2019.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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