The debate in the run-up to last year’s Brexit referendum was lamentably short on details about its effects on the UK and Scottish economy.
While the Leave campaign’s bogus suggestion that exiting the European Union would save the UK £350 million a week gained traction, warnings of a downturn were dismissed as the prattling of ‘experts’.
It is still unclear whether we are heading for a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit but, amid calls for a second referendum, it is important that voters are told about the UK Government’s own estimates of the potential damage.
Westminster’s decision to share its so-far confidential Brexit impact report with the Scottish Government is welcome, but it must also eventually come clean with the public.
The reason for keeping the report’s conclusions secret – that it would result in “precipitating preemptive and reactionary assumptions” that would damage the economy – hardly inspires confidence. Neither does an estimate by the respected London School of Economics, which found Scotland’s output could fall by £30 billion over five years if there is no trade deal with the EU.
Given the fractious nature of relations between London and Edinburgh – claim and counter-claim of a “power grab” by Westminster continued yesterday – it would hardly be a surprise if the report was now leaked.
Theresa May would be much better advised to make the report public, absorb the blow and allow voters to make up their own minds.
One lesson from the Scottish independence referendum was that keeping secrets from the electorate simply looks bad.
Alex Salmond suggested in an interview that he had consulted Scottish Government lawyers over an independent Scotland’s potential membership of the EU. It would, supposedly, all be fine. But, after repeated attempts by journalists to find out what the lawyers had actually said, it eventually emerged no such advice existed. The resulting political damage may have been worse than an admission that a legal opinion had not been sought.
Fear of the unknown can become greater than the reality. If that’s the case about Brexit, it would be better to publish the economic impact report.
But, if it truly is a bombshell that would change the minds of Brexit voters, it must also be published.