May I say that I probably would not agree with the conclusion reached by Sir Nicholas Soames, but it was a pleasure to hear that speech?
I know that the Chancellor has had to go to a Cabinet committee meeting—I suspect there may be a number of those between now and next Tuesday—so I understand why he is not in his place. However, I would like to say that I agree with him in one particular regard—that to have no deal and to revert to WTO rules would be the worst possible outcome we could reach.
I would also say that I thought the Chancellor was incredibly sincere when he said that not to agree with the Prime Minister’s arrangements in this withdrawal deal would fracture society. I have absolutely no doubt of the sincerity with which he said that but, as a democrat, I say no less sincerely that, when the circumstances change and the actual consequences of what we may embark on become clear, we have a right to change our minds, whatever that means to any individual.
I wish to restrict my remarks mainly to issues of trade, investment and migration, as a reduction in trade and investment and a reduction in migration due to an ending of the free movement of people will be the main drivers of a reduction in GDP growth, productivity and living standards for citizens. Unless one views this as some kind of nationalistic project, surely to goodness our primary concern should be the economy, the changes to it, the impact on it and the impact on citizens.
On the decision to end free movement, as the Prime Minister says, “once and for all”, all of the Brexit scenarios modelled by the Treasury show GDP in 15 years’ time to be lower, and lower still when the impact of ending free movement is modelled. So it is time to stop pretending that ending free movement is a good thing. It is not: it is self-evidently economically damaging.
Intent on mitigating some of that, I read the withdrawal agreement in detail. The section in the political declaration on mobility states:
“The mobility arrangements will be based on non-discrimination”— that is good, but
“free movement…will no longer apply”.
The parties will wish to negotiate short-term visits and visits for study, training and youth exchanges. They will consider social security issues. They will explore the possibility of facilitating the crossing of respective borders for legitimate travel; that means it will not exist on day one. They will allow travel under international family law, or for judicial co-operation in matrimonial matters, in matters of parental responsibility and the like. Paragraph 59 of the document states:
“These arrangements would be in addition to commitments on temporary entry and stay…referred to in Section III”.
Those are limited areas. I will come back to that in relation to agriculture, but I do not want anyone to think that this agreement will in effect allow travel as it currently exists; it simply will not.
All the serious pre-referendum assessments of the likely impact—every one—were negative. They were almost all in the minus 2% to minus 9% GDP range over the forecast periods they looked at. Even the OECD central estimate was a 5% loss of GDP over the forecast period. The subsequent analysis, the “Cross Whitehall Briefing”, suggested that GDP would be 1.5% lower in 15 years under an EEA-type scenario, 4.8% lower under a free trade agreement scenario and 7.7% lower under a mitigated WTO-type scenario. It is worth noting that even that final scenario was based on a smooth, orderly no-deal exit, not a disruptive, cliff-edge Brexit. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Bank of England Brexit analysis shows GDP growth lower, unemployment higher and inflation steeply upward the more disorderly the Brexit. Pre-referendum, the figures for Scotland on a WTO rules outcome suggested GDP down 5%, real wages down 7% and employment down by 80,000 jobs, or about 3%.
Since the withdrawal agreement has been published, there have been further assessments, which have been referenced today. The NIESR has suggested GDP growth will be reduced by £100 billion a year. The LSE has suggested that GDP will be lower—again, in the minus 2% to minus 9% range. The Scottish Government have demonstrated that, under an FTA agreement, Scottish GDP will be down by about £9 billion, which is the equivalent of £1,600 per person.