Counting the cost of Brexit: Can we see the impact assessment please?
Time was when nothing could be done by the Government or the European Union without a rigorously mapped impact assessment. Almost invariably wielded as a tool by deregulatory zealots to show that workers’ demands would lead to unacceptable burdens on business, I can remember exposing many of the faults in the technique. Too much reliance on business belief rather than hard evidence, a failure to recognise that regulation was often the driver of better performance as well as behaviour, and a binary assumption that the alternative to one regulatory proposal was no regulation at all, as opposed to a different regulatory way of achieving the same end.
But now a reluctance to assess the impact of Brexit seems to suggest that the time of impact assessments is over. Or are they just scared of the results?
Brexit Secretary David Davis MP got a lot of coverage last week when he told the Commons Brexit Select Committee that the Government had expressed a preference for ‘no deal’ over a ‘bad deal’ without assessing the consequences of either. It was, he seemed to suggest, a value judgment, not an economic one. And that’s obviously of a piece with the Government’s decision that controlling immigration (not, note, reducing it, just feeling like they’re in charge) is more important than the economic impact of Brexit.
But there were audible and virtual sharp intakes of breath about Mr Davis’ apparent insouciance. There’s always been a flamboyant and reckless flip-side to his craggy-faced, gritty, pragmatic image, after all. And some cynics suggested that if he was willing to look as careless and incompetent as his Select Committee bombshell made him look, he must have been hiding something worse (the suspicion is that an impact assessment has been done, and it proves that no deal would be the worst deal possible!)
There’s also been a suggestion that it’s either unwise or impossible to do an impact assessment on a trade deal under negotiation, although that’s somewhat undermined (I’m engaging in traditional British understatement – I mean, of course, “shown to be totally wrong”) by the impact assessments the Government conducted on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the US or the EU’s assessment of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement with Canada (the Czech Republic also conducted a country specific assessment.)
But whatever the reason, real or imagined, impact assessments are absolutely vital as Brexit is negotiated. The day after Davis’ shock revelation, the GMB published the results of an opinion poll showing that the British public would actually like such assessments to be done. Asked whether “the government should now publish its assessments on what it thinks could happen to different industries and parts of the UK economy”, more than twice as many said yes than no (55% to 23%, with 22% don’t knows.)
Support for this step was found across the major UK political parties, including UKIP:
- Conservative: 46% want them published, 35% don’t
- UKIP: 47% want them published, 34% don’t
- Labour: 66% want them published, 15% don’t
- Liberal Democrats: 77% want them published, 16% don’t
And if the UK Government doesn’t do what the British people want, the European Commission might well. The same day the GMB released their poll, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) decided to call upon the Commission to conduct and publish such impact assessments as the Brexit negotiations proceed. One way or another, people want to know what impact Brexit will have on them.
Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said:
“Unions and industry know the journey to Brexit won’t be straightforward but before we all jump in the car we need more information about the actual route the government wants to take us on.
“Deal or no deal, if ministers are so confident in their plans they should publish them all and share them with the public who want to know what’s around the corner.”