Do you want the truth about Brexit? The real truth? Well, you can’t handle the truth. It’s just come out of the oven and it’s piping hot. Wait for it to cool down, get yourself some oven mitts, and then, perhaps, you may gingerly lift the truth to your flaring nostrils.
That, at least, is the line the Government is trying to take after being forced by Labour to release 58 hitherto secret studies on the potential impact of Brexit on the UK economy. These documents – which my colleague Asa has christened the Brex Files – comprise detailed assessments of numerous specific sectors including advertising, aerospace, chemicals, financial technology, fisheries, gambling, life sciences, performing arts, postal services, real estate, road haulage, space, textiles and tourism.
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom (who may have precipitated Sir Michael Fallon’s resignation after telling No 10 he had made lewd remarks to her) has assured MPs that the Government considers Labour’s motion binding and that it will release the impact assessments in due course. But ministers claim they cannot do so immediately because the files contain information which could undermine our Brexit negotiations by letting Brussels know just where our pressure points are. A small army of civil servants will need to go through the assessments with black marker, redacting sensitive details, and the full reports may only be seen by the Commons Brexit committee, led by Labour’s Hilary Ben.
So is this really explosive information which could destroy our position? Probably not. The EU is quite capable of assessing Brexit’s impact for itself, and indeed the European Parliament has already produced a report on that subject. Moreover, private companies have already done similar assessments, most notably KPMG. Its report predicted severe impacts on food and drink manufacturing, which are heavily reliant on EU workers (a Polish housemate once welcomed me home by jokily offering me a supermarket ready meal which he had made that day in the factory where he worked), and on car manufacturing, which has a very globalised supply chain. Construction and insurance would probably be safe, whereas banking, hotels and restaurants would not. Pharmaceuticals could also suffer because of regulatory issues.
The real problem is more likely political. If and when the documents are released then hard Remainers will hold them aloft gleefully crowing that Brexit will be a disaster and that the Government knows it will be a disaster. Labour will interrogate ministers as to why they are pressing ahead despite these assessments. even as it refuses to offer its own clear vision of what Brexit should look like instead. And some Brexiteers will see the work of mandarins who not believe in Brexit and does not have faith in Britain. It will deepen the suspicion that already exists towards the civil service, and multiply the calls for Theresa May to ignore them and forge ahead anyway.
In the grand scheme of things none of this will be very significant. But it will inflame partisan wounds and let each side renew its attack lines. Not a bad week’s work for those who profit from the appearance that Brexit is in chaos.
via The Telegraph