Rishi Sunak has refused to accept Brexit has damaged the UK’s trade with other countries – despite the government’s own figures showing a sharp drop.
The prime minister was pressed on the issue in the House of Commons on Wednesday after one of Mr Sunak’s Cabinet ministers rejected evidence from the government’s economic watchdog.
Kemi Badenoch, the trade secretary, said earlier this month that the government did not believe the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts on the matter and took different view.
The minister’s comments were raised Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts at prime minister’s questions.
“The prime minister is struggling to rebuild the Tories’ ruined economic credibility after his predecessor scored the OBR,” she said.
“But in a Bloomberg interview just last week his trade secretary disputed economic forecasts that trade would be 15 per cent lower because of Brexit.
“Britain’s economic prospects are worsened by being outside the world’s largest trading bloc: that is a fact. So who does he agree with? The OBR or his Tory minister.”
Mr Sunak responded by saying he believed Brexit would actually grow UK trade outside the bloc.
“One of the great opportunities of Brexit is our ability to trade more with countries around the world – and actually I know the honourable lady will actually want to speak to many of the Welsh farmers who are enjoying selling their lamb to the new markets that have opened up for them. That’s what we’ll get on and deliver,” he replied.
Hard figures produced by the EU statistics agency Eurostat show UK exports down to the bloc by 14 per cent in 2021.
Meanwhile the UK’s Office for Budget responsibility says the latest data shows its estimate of a 15 per cent reduction in trade “as a result of Brexit” appears to be broadly correct.
The watchdog says the scale of increases in trade outside the EU are nowhere near enough to compensate for the hit the UK has taken.
Despite Mr Sunak’s claims about Welsh lamb, the National Farmers Union has expressed concern about trade deals with by the government since Brexit, which they warn will flood the UK with imports produced to lower welfare standards.
In fact, the government’s own estimate of its Brexit trade deal with New Zealand expects it to hurt British farmers. Ms Badenoch’s Department for International Trade describes says the deal will cause a £150 million contraction to the sector because of a ‘”reallocation of resources within the economy”.