Robert Colvile, director of the right-wing think tank Centre for Policy Studies and editor-in-chief of the online newspaper CapX is a supporter and advocate of Brexit. He also writes a column in The Sunday Times and you would therefore expect him to have all the facts and figures of Brexit at his fingertips. But no, he is surprisingly ill-informed.
Cautiously welcoming the Benefits of Brexit paper (described as “fundamentally meaningless” by professor Chris Grey), Colville tweeted:
The £600m saving by scrapping EU rules is an illusion
But he seems to still be labouring under the mistaken impression that the £600m a week (£33bn a year) figure trumpeted by Johnson during the referendum campaign as ‘savings from scrapping EU red tape is actually real. I fear he is in for an almighty shock. It is, and always was, an illusion. I wonder if anyone’s told Colvile the truth about Santa Claus?
He references the £33bn figure from Open Europe (OE) – a pop-up think tank that at one point had Henry Newman (protégé of Michael Gove, close friend of Carrie Symonds and now senior adviser to Johnson), as a director. The lately defunct OE merged with another right-wing think tank Policy Exchange in 2020.
Their figure came from the cost of the top 100 most-expensive EU regulations, which you can see HERE as calculated by civil servants in impact assessments. Open Europe admitted the impact also showed these regulations “provide a total benefit of £58.6bn a year” but thought that was “vastly over-stated”.
In other words, official government impact assessments showed that scrapping these 100 EU regulations (including things like insisting on energy efficient appliances) would actually cost us a net £25.6bn.
Johnson backtracked on the £600m a week five years ago
What Colvile seems totally unaware of is that even Vote Leave backtracked on the £33bn pledge – through Change Britain, a successor to Vote Leave founded by leaders of the original campaign including Gisela Stuart and err … Boris Johnson.
The Change Britain website has been taken down, but you can see it in an archive HERE.
In a briefing note for editors from 2017 provided by Change Britain, which clearly Colvile didn’t receive, didn’t read, or didn’t understand, we can see at the top of page 6 they say the likely “gains from scrapping burdensome Single Market rules” are actually £1,219,590,000.
Vote Leave, or Change Britain as it became, had quietly downgraded the promised £33bn to just £1.2bn. Presumably this was after realising the Conservative Party might have to ‘deliver’ the massive and completely unrealistic savings.
Helpfully, the note goes on to explain how the numbers got whittled down. It turns out a lot of the ‘burdensome’ regulations:
- saved money, or
- were actually useful, necessary and popular, or
- were based on international law, or
- hadn’t been highlighted in the last ‘red tape initiative’ carried out by David Cameron’s government.
Any way, at least £1.2bn could be saved; that’s something isn’t it?
Perhaps not. As you can see from the note, the bulk of the £1.2bn came from repealing the 1998 Data Protection Act (£1.058bn). Neither the government nor Iain Duncan Smith’s task force on regulatory reform (TIGRR) have proposed to scrap it altogether without putting something in its place. The TIGRR report proposed replacing the EU’s GDPR with “a new UK framework for data protection” and the latest Benefits of Brexit paper talks of a “new pro-growth data regime” that may be as, or even more, costly. Who knows.
Colvile also fails to mention the estimated £7bn a year cost (not burdensome I assume) in preparing additional customs paperwork for both imports and exports.
And while we’re on the subject, note also that Change Britain in 2017 predicted an increase in exports of between £8.5bn and £19bn as a result of leaving the EU’s customs union. In fact, our exports to the EU (worth £250bn a year in 2020) are down by between 11 and 16 percent (£27–£40bn, give or take) according to the latest analysis by the Centre for European Reform.