The government has been accused of engaging in a “deeply irresponsible” cover-up after it refused to publish in full an internal analysis which concluded Britain would be worse off whatever Brexit deal is struck with Brussels.
Brexit minister Steve Baker was hauled to the Commons on Tuesday after a civil service assessment of the economic impact of leaving the EU was leaked to BuzzFeed UK.
Rubbishing the study, Baker said forecasts produced by the government were “always wrong”.
He told MPs the leak was an “attempt to undermine our exit from the EU” and risked “exposing our negotiating position”.
But Baker did pledge an “appropriate” economic analysis would be provided to MPs after talks had been completed and parliament was preparing to vote on the proposed deal.
However Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said this was “not good enough” and accused ministers of “piling absurdity upon absurdity”.
Labour shadow chancellor Chris Leslie accused Baker of a “deeply irresponsible” decision to withhold the study. “This is cover-up pure and simple and it stinks,” he said.
The civil service study said even if the UK was able to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, growth would be down 5% over the next 15 years.
Baker told the Commons: “I am not able to name an accurate forecast and I think they are always wrong and wrong for good reasons.”
However despite claiming all forecasts were wrong, he said the leaked study showed economic growth was still predicted “in all scenarios” of Brexit.
Leading Brexieteer Tory MPs have attacked the civil service report. Former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said the timing of the leak, amid a furious internal Conservative Party row over Brexit, was “suspicious”.
“It’s deliberately leaked because it gives a bad view, and therefore we should put it on one side and say leave it alone,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
And backbencher Nigel Evans told BBC News: “Clearly it’s been leaked by someone who thinks it bolsters the softest possible Brexit.”
But pro-Remain Tory MPs hit back. Anna Soubry said the study showed the “least damaging” Brexit would be to stay in the single market and customs union. “Let’s put country before ideology and stay in both,” she tweeted.
Eddisbury MP Antoinette Sandbach rebuked Baker in the Commons. “Quite frankly I take exception to be being told it’s not in the national interest for me to see a report that allows me to best represent my constituents. Parliament needs access to the best possible information,” she said.
Theresa May held a Cabinet meeting this morning following the leak as she prepared for a high profile trade mission to China.
Downing Street spokesman said: “At the beginning of cabinet the prime minister noted media coverage of a report purporting to show the economic impact of Britain leaving the EU.
“The prime minsiter said this was initial work not approved by ministers which only considers off-the-shelf scenarios. No analysis was made of the bespoke arrangement we seek as a matter of government policy as set out in the Florence speech.”