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Department for Exiting the European Union

Part of Ministry of Defence – in the House of Commons at 8:44 pm on 26th February 2018.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Chair, International Trade Committee 8:44 pm, 26th February 2018

The hon. Gentleman makes a case for all reports, but the report is the best estimate we have to go with. The report was kept secret for a long time, but it seems that it chimed with more than one person when it had to be leaked in the end.

It has emerged that the UK Government have decided on the middle road. They are looking for a free trade agreement, which is the option of a 5% to 6% hit on GDP—those are the Government’s own estimates—although some of the Tory party would go for the 8% hit of WTO rules. They have made political choices with severe economic consequences that they probably will not personally have to face. In a funny, humorous and ironic twist, they expect the European Union not to respond in kind. They expect the European Union to react with complete economic rationale, even though their politics are ones of irrational economic actions.

As we know, the EU and the UK have already taken actions based on principles, for a higher purpose, and that was in Crimea because of Russia’s annexation of it. The EU’s principle of the four freedoms means that it will take a smaller hit than the UK and a smaller hit than they all took with Crimea, or about the same. The point is that, in the bigger picture, the European Union is going to lose effectively about a toenail here, while the UK debates how many bullets are to go through its feet. That is the difference in the damage that will be done.

From the principal parties, we have had slogans. The slogan from the ruling Conservative party has been the illuminating “Brexit means Brexit”, as well as “It’s going to be a Brexit for Britain” and “It’s going to be the best trade deal possible”. We can look at this as an analogy. The Government have crashed their Rolls-Royce and are going down the second-hand car shop looking for the best second-hand car possible. Will it be a second-hand car that is 2% less good, 5% less good or 8% less good than the one they currently have?

On the other hand, we have the principal Opposition party, Labour, talking about a Brexit for jobs and a Brexit for the people. Labour—or at least its leader—has thrown another variable into the works: it want a customs union. I do not see an estimate for that either. What does that mean? If hon. Members are familiar with national newspapers that run fantasy football activities for statheads and football fans, they will know that readers can pick and choose players from a variety of teams and compose their own team based on that fantasy—perhaps called Team Corbyn; I do not know—but it is notable that this need not bear any relation to the reality of football other than the statistics, and even the players do not need to know that they are in somebody’s fantasy football team. Similarly, what is now emerging is a fantasy customs union—it bears no relation to the views of the 27 other partner countries—and they can pick and choose elements from the newspapers to their heart’s content.

The estimates in the leaked statistics show that this option—it is not the customs union or the single market—will lead to a hit of between 2% and 5% to 6% to the UK economy. The current Labour leadership should be very clear about that.