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21 December 2017

David Davis’s garbled reports show we still don’t know the true cost of Brexit

Impact assessments or not, the government has clearly done no proper research on how Brexit will affect the economy. 

By Seema Malhotra

After a long and arduous campaign, in which the Brexit Secretary David Davis had to be dragged kicking and screaming into releasing his Department’s “impact assessments”, today the reports have finally been published. But anyone reading the released material will, I’m sure, be asking themselves: is this it?

Over months of questioning, David Davis repeatedly suggested that his department had conducted detailed reports that included forecasting data of what impact different models of Brexit would have. For example, on 2 February 2017, he told the House of Commons that “We continue to analyse the impact of our exit across the breadth of the UK economy, covering more than 50 sectors – I think it was 58 at the last count – to shape our negotiating position.” And yet the material produced today contains no assessment of what impact Brexit will have on different sectors of the economy. It seems to mainly consist of publicly available information that anyone could have found on Wikipedia.

One section in the Aerospace report spends a paragraph describing the three parts that go into making up an aircraft. I’m not exaggerating about that. It remains totally unclear whether these reports were actually something the Brexit Department had already compiled before it was forced to release them, or whether they were cobbled together at the last minute to comply with Parliament’s instruction that the information be handed over immediately.

Personally, I’m not particularly interested into getting into a fruitless semantic argument about what is an “impact assessment” versus what is a “sectoral analysis”. The much more important point is: the Brexit Secretary now says his department hasn’t conducted any research into what effect different Brexit outcomes will have on different parts of the UK economy. If that is the case, that is nothing short of a dereliction of duty. To put it into perspective, the government conducts impact assessments all the time, on all sorts of subjects. A quick search of the government website reveals impact assessments into things like public transport ticketing schemes, the Higher Education and Research Bill, apprenticeship reforms…the list goes on. And yet for Brexit, the most important issue facing this country for generations, the government hasn’t conducted any assessment of what impact it will have on the economy?

We’re talking about real people’s jobs here. These reports cover around 85 per cent of the UK economy, approximately 29 million workers. It’s simply not good enough for the government and the Brexit secretary to pretend they’ve now finished their homework and dealt with this issue. 

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My concern is that the government has been resistant to publish more of their research, in particular on leaving the single market and the customs union, because there has been a consensus across industry that they would wish to stay in, or at the very least to mirror EU regulations and get the same exact benefits. Their business models and supply chains rely on this. Evidence given to select committees across the Commons and Lords reflect these concerns and the government has yet to address them.

It is critical that the debate on the UK’s future relationship with the EU is led by evidence and that Parliament and the public are not kept in the dark. People have a right to know how Brexit is going to affect their jobs, their careers and their livelihoods. And they have the right to hold the government to account for whether Brexit is going to make our nation more prosperous or less.

Seema Malhotra is a leading supporter of Open Britain. 

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