LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s government said on Wednesday it would hand over to parliament what it called an initial analysis of the impact of Brexit, trying to deflect accusations that ministers are badly prepared for leaving the EU.
The leaked report has struck at the heart of government Brexit strategy, with one minister suggesting that analysis by officials should be discounted and another urging the government to reconsider its stance.
It has piled pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May, who is under fire from some in her own Conservative Party for lacking leadership and a clear Brexit plan, as she negotiates a deal to end more than 40 years of union.
The main opposition Labour Party is trying to force the government into handing over the report, entitled “EU Exit Analysis - Cross Whitehall Briefing” and dated January 2018, by using an ancient parliamentary procedure.
“Let me start by saying that the government will not be opposing this motion today,” junior Brexit minister Robin Walker told parliament, saying that if lawmakers voted in favor of publishing the report, it could be seen “on a strictly confidential basis”.
The report, which the government has called a partial piece of work that had yet to be signed off by ministers, said the economy would be worse off after Brexit whether Britain left the EU with a free trade deal, single market access, or with no deal at all.
On Tuesday, another junior Brexit minister, Steve Baker, rebuffed calls for the government to release the full report by saying it was not ready and that lawmakers should be cautious because analysis by officials was often wrong.
Phillip Lee, a minister at the justice department, was rebuked on Wednesday for expressing on Twitter his suggestion that if the report were true “there would be a serious question over whether a government could legitimately lead a country along a path that the evidence and rational consideration indicate would be damaging”.
Government aides have said the paper leaked to BuzzFeed News had not been signed off by ministers nor had considered the government’s preferred goal of a bespoke future relationship with the EU after leaving.
But it has raised further questions over how prepared the government is for the complicated negotiations to end Britain’s membership of the EU.
“There is a serious point here,” said Labour’s Brexit policy chief Keir Starmer. “Is it seriously government policy that impact assessments are so unreliable that it is better to proceed without them?”
“We need an informed debate including the likely economic impact of different approaches - publication is needed in the name of transparency,” he told parliament.
Reporting By Elizabeth Piper; Writing by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Stephen Addison