Friday, 20 October 2017

Money for old rope with Jolyon Maugham

Anti-Brexit campaigner Jolyon Maugham has been getting thousands of retweets with what he claims are secret government forecasts of what will happen if Britain leaves the EU without a deal and has to 'fall back' on WTO rules.

Maugham doesn't provide a link to the 'major newspaper' but the document he is talking about is probably the one referred to by the Independent and others back in March. Maugham has said that the document was produced 'shortly before the referendum'. It is almost certainly an early draft of the Treasury's notorious 'Project Fear' report that was published 18 months ago and is available online to anyone who wants to read it.

The Treasury also predicted an immediate recession if Britain voted to Leave. Obviously that didn't happen and the National Audit Office has admitted that some of the Treasury's assumptions were wrong. That doesn't make the rest of their predictions wrong, but it gives pause for thought.

So is it possible to get people excited about some predictions made 18 months ago when some of them have already been shown to be wrong? If your audience is one of diehard Remainers, the answer is yes, of course. Any scrap is hungrily devoured if it makes it look like as if the UK cannot become a normal, self-governing country.

Maugham's big 'headline' from his secret document is that every household will be £5,200 poorer under WTO rules.

Big news, eh? Except that is exactly what the Treasury publicly stated in May 2016, as you will see if you turn to page 122...

After 15 years, the UK is estimated to be between 5.4% and 9.5% of GDP better off inside the EU than adopting WTO rules. In 2015 terms, leaving the EU and relying on the WTO rules would mean a long-term loss of GDP of £5,200 a year for each household in the UK...

The net impact on receipts would be £20 billion a year in the central case of the EEA, £36 billion a year in the case of the negotiated bilateral agreement, and £45 billion a year in the case of the WTO.

But there's more...

This is highly debatable but, regardless of its merits, the same claim was made, almost word-for-word, on page 12 of the published report...

Relying solely on the WTO rules would result in a significant reduction in the openness of the UK economy to the outside world. It would be the alternative with the most negative long-term impact.

And on page 10...

WTO membership would amount to a significant closing of the UK’s access to global markets and would likely see the introduction of a much broader range of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

What other scoops has Maugham got for us?

Man! On page 98 of the published report, the Treasury mentions 'the food industry, worth almost £20 billion, over 370,000 jobs and selling almost 55% of exports to Europe'. It then gives exactly the same numbers that has got Maugham excited on page 96...

In 2014 for dairy products these tariffs averaged 36% with a very broad range of duties applied. This is significant because the EU accounted for 61% of UK agri-food exports in 2014, with EU member states accounting for 7 of the UK’s top 8 agricultural export markets.

The rest of Maugham's thread simply explains what WTO rules are and how could work, albeit with a bias towards pessimism. Everything in it has all been in the public domain for ages, mostly in the published report. For example...

This is discussed at greater length in the published report, particularly on pages 92 and 93, with the same conclusion. Woah!

Not exactly the Rosetta Stone, is it? It's kind of sad to see so many people getting hot and bothered about what is, at best, a shorter draft of a publicly available document. The idea that the Treasury had misgivings about leaving the EU but buried them in a secret report is ludicrous. The Treasury quite obviously wanted to remain and it published a 200 page report explaining why.

Some of the replies are hilarious.


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