Greenpeace rebrand the Vote Leave battle bus after the referendum. Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images
When a big lie fails, hard Brexiteers tell a bigger one
It’s hard to work out what’s most ludicrous about this morning’s ‘news’ that Michael Gove and others claim that leaving the EU Customs Union would benefit Britain by £450 million a week and create 400,000 new jobs. My favourite is the claim that once we leave the EU we will benefit from new trade deals with Korea (we’ve already got one) or Japan (about to be signed.) This takes ‘double counting’ (or a total lack of knowledge about trade agreements) to new heights.
The much touted £350 million a week that leaving the EU was supposed to add to the funding of the NHS is now considered a sick joke by most people. So this morning’s claim from Change Britain that a further £450 million would be added to Britain’s GDP should set some alarm bells ringing. Throughout the referendum campaign, the leaders of the Leave campaign described figures demonstrating the negative impacts of leaving the EU as ‘project fear’ – fundamentally unreliable. So it’s odd that they hold out some extremely shoddy figures themselves to support their campaign to foist a ‘hard Brexit’ on the Prime Minister (make no mistake, this is still an internal Conservative Party spat, with all too little to do with what’s good for Britain.)
The actual Change Britain report which was originally released last week (this is a post-Christmas rehash of the same story, but with added ‘pressure’ on Theresa May) refers to the alleged benefits to Britain of leaving the single market as well as the Customs Union.
It proposes a raft of deregulatory moves, while maintaining the fiction that workers’ rights would not be affected (although the list of regulations listed includes at least two that most people would consider to be rights at work – TUPE protections for people whose job is outsourced or sold off, and a limit on truck drivers’ hours behind the wheel, which of course also benefits other road users who don’t want to be tail-gated by a trucker who hasn’t slept much that week!) As Sam Bowman from the Adam Smith Institute has blogged, the main ‘saving’ from throwing off the shackles of Brussels-based rules would come from scrapping the Data Protection Act – is that what taking back control is reduced to?
It doesn’t admit that there would be huge costs to the British economy from leaving the single market in terms of lost trade, but repeats the suggestion that we’ll save vast amounts because we don’t pay in to the EU budget any more. Strangely, the figure for savings has come down to (the report says that we’ll save £10bn in budget contributions or £200 million a week: but Change Britain doesn’t explain why the figure has come down by nearly half from the £350 million that was emblazoned on Boris Johnson’s battle bus.)
But it’s when it gets on to the alleged benefits of leaving the Customs Union that fantasy really takes hold. Using the European Commission’s own estimates of how much trade deals ‘benefit’ the EU in terms of increased exports (which are widely considered as unreliably optimistic, and don’t include the cost of extra imports, or the loss of jobs that would result from that), Change Britain estimate that we would gain £3.2 billion a year from a trade deal with Korea. Which has already been in place for five years… d’oh! A further £3.2 billion is predicted to result from a Japan-UK trade deal (the UK will, by 2019, be covered by the EU-Japan trade deal that is about to be signed) and £3.8 billion from an imaginary UK-US trade deal (for a rather more sanguine insight into the new Trump administration’s trade agenda with the UK, see here.)
A full third of the benefits from new trade deals is predicted to arise from trade deals which already exist, and most of the rest is imaginary, takes no account of the possible costs of trade deals, and could take 7-10 years to negotiate.
Others like Adam Bowman and Jonathan Portes comprehensively trashed the ludicrous nature of the Change Britain report when it first surfaced last week. It’s a sad reflection on the state of debate that this internal Conservative Party spat is still making headlines.