A new free trade plan hailed by leading Brexiteers as a viable and deliverable alternative to Theresa May’s Chequers Brexit plan has been met with scepticism from trade experts who question whether its numbers add up.
What new relationship is being proposed?
Plan A+: Creating a prosperous post-Brexit UK by the free-market thinktank the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) recommends a “basic” Canada-style free trade deal with the EU for goods and a new Anglo-Irish back-stop agreement to preserve the open border.
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On trade, the IEA calls for the elimination of tariffs and quotas on all products the UK does not produce, including foodstuffs that cannot be grown here. It wants to restore sovereignty over British waters in fisheries policy and says the UK should join numerous global trade organisations as soon as possible.
It calls for “regulatory freedom” from the EU that will give it “trade independence” and says free movement from the EU should be replaced with a worldwide system that “recognises the economic and social benefits and costs of immigration”.
Who supports it?
The plan has already won the backing of a string of prominent Brexiteers, including former Brexit secretary David Davis, Labour’s Gisela Stuart and influential backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who called it the “most exciting contribution” to the Brexit debate in months.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson also threw his support behind the report, saying the proposals will “set us free to prosper”.
He also warned Theresa May’s Chequers plan would force the UK to accept EU rules “forever” as The Daily Telegraph reported a majority of the Cabinet now supports moving towards a Canada-style trade deal with the EU.
What has the reaction been?
While the IEA plan has drawn support from many Brexit big beasts, Plan A+ has “provoked heavy scepticism from trade experts” says Business Insider UK.
David Henig, the UK Director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, told the news site that the core of the project was pushing adopting US food standards, and that Plan A+ does not adequately explain why the UK should diverge from EU regulation despite their widespread use.
Henig also argues that the report does not establish how damaging it would be for the UK to diverge.
“Despite all of the noise, no-one has yet provided solid evidence to justify the core assertion” ” says the i newspaper: “that rejecting a close relationship with the trade and regulatory superpower on our doorstep in favour of unpredictable bounty further afield is in the economic interest of the UK, contrary to mainstream economists’ – and indeed the Government’s – assessments.”
“This is not a question of politics or economics, but maths” says Newsnight policy editor Chris Cook.
“First, this work breaks lots of the accepted rules of basic data hygiene and model designs. The peculiar way the model is fitted together means it could never produce a reliable or stable output that could be relied upon”.
“Second, the model's whole weight sits on assumptions that are odd or indefensible” he writes. “For example, all else being equal, it assumes making it cheaper to lay people off will lead to a rise in health spending and a rise in domestic banks' supply of credit. That, in turn will lead to a rise in output.”
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