A leaked, and gloomy, economic forecast has inflamed arguments about Britain's decision to leave the European Union. Brexit-supporting politicians on Tuesday said those who released the document were trying to derail the country's EU exit, while pro-EU lawmakers accused the government of burying bad news.
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An assessment prepared for the government and leaked to news site BuzzFeed forecasts that the economy will be worse off after Britain leaves the EU, whatever trade deal the country strikes with the bloc.
It says that under a free trade deal, growth will be 5 percent lower than current forecasts over 15 years. If there is no deal and the U.K. resorts to generic World Trade Organization terms, growth will be 8 percent lower, it says, while if Britain remains in the EU single market but as a non-bloc member, the decline will be 2 percent.
Brexit Minister Steve Baker said what had been published was "a selective interpretation of a preliminary analysis."
"It is an attempt to undermine our exit from the European Union," he said.
During a highly charged debate in the House of Commons, Baker said previous predictions that the economy would nosedive after the country's 2016 vote to leave the EU have, so far, been wrong.
Another pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, Philip Davies, blamed the leak on civil service "remoaners" — a derogatory term for those who want to remain in the European Union.
Pro-EU legislators accused the government of a cover-up, and demanded it publish all its internal assessments of Brexit's economic impact.
"A lack of transparency is not in the national interest," said Labour's Hilary Benn.
Baker said the government would not publish its analysis while negotiations with the EU were underway, because that "would surely harm the national interest."
Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019, but it and the EU have not yet begun negotiating their future trade relations. The U.K. government says it wants a "close and special" free trade deal with the bloc.
Meanwhile, the House of Lords on Tuesday began scrutinizing the EU Withdrawal Bill, a key piece of legislation that is designed to convert thousands of EU laws into British statutes when the U.K. leaves the bloc in March 2019. Without it, Britain could face a legal black hole the day after Brexit.
A majority of members of Parliament's unelected upper house oppose Brexit, and will try to make major changes to the legislation over the coming weeks.