The revelation that the U.K. government decided to leave the European Union’s trade bloc without calculating the impact adds another twist to a week that was supposed to mark a breakthrough for Prime Minister Theresa May rather than renewed accusations of incompetence.
Brexit Secretary David Davis told lawmakers on Wednesday that “no quantitative assessment” was carried out before the cabinet decided to leave the customs union. “There’s obviously a judgment made on qualitative things, but not a quantitative one,” he said.
Leaving the customs union means businesses will have to restructure the way they trade and incorporate new hurdles when bringing goods to and from the U.K.’s biggest trading partner.
Part of the narrative from Brexit backers over the past 18 months has been that the divorce will allow the U.K. to break free from EU rules and chart its own course with free-trade deals around the world. Britain has to leave the customs union to do that.
But the disclosure by Davis that the numbers weren’t crunched drew more accusations that the government is using too much guesswork.
Some members of May’s Conservative Party, along with rank-and-file opposition Labour lawmakers and the Scottish National Party, want the U.K. to remain in the customs union and single market.
Davis also admitted the government hasn’t conducted impact assessments on specific sectors of the economy after months of suggesting the work was ongoing.
“The revelation from the Brexit secretary that the U.K. government has not conducted a single economic impact assessment on the impact of Brexit on the British economy is simply staggering and, if accurate, constitutes a serious dereliction of duty,” said Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s justice and home affairs spokesperson.
Leaving the customs union also makes a solution to the Irish border question more complicated. It’s the key issue now holding back Brexit talks after an intervention on Monday by Northern Ireland’s largest political party.
Davis said, though, that going it alone would be beneficial because it would allow Britain to become more like the Swiss and negotiate trade deals on its own terms.
“The free trade agreements carried out by the European Union have not been particularly beneficial to the United Kingdom,” Davis told the U.K. Parliament’s Brexit Committee. “The free trade agreements carried out by Switzerland, a much smaller country, have been fantastically beneficial to it.”