The government has tried desperately to withhold publishing the Brexit impact studies, even from relevant parliamentarians such as the Exiting the European Union select committee. The answer they give as to why that is comes down to the idea that releasing them will negatively affect our negotiating position with the EU. It is hard for me to fathom why anything within any impact studies would affect the negotiating position whatsoever; I have to believe that this is a bluff by the government and that no one within in it actually believes this. They can’t be that clueless about the parameters of the negotiation, surely.
So, putting aside the notion that putting the impact studies out to even parliamentarians will somehow damage the country to one side, here’s what should happen: Theresa May should just go ahead and release them all, unredacted, to the general public. There are several reasons for this.
One, it is the right thing to do. Brexit is the biggest change that will hit Britain since the close of the Second World War; the British public deserves to know what the government itself thinks will happen as a result. Two, it gets the Brexit debate back on firma terra out there. If the government publishes the impact reports, they are brutal, and the public opinion still doesn’t change that much as a result (which I have a sneaking suspicion may be the case), then Brexiteers can legitimately say that the public supports Brexit in spite of the economic pain that may very well follow. We can get off this circular debate about the economy being affected by Brexit badly (or no, it will be fantastic economically!) versus the sovereignty debate. Brexiteers should realise that if there is a likelihood that Brexit could be bad for the economy, at least initially, if the public is prepared for that this can be weathered. Otherwise, they risk extreme blowback.
Three, if Theresa May wants to reclaim some hope of an even okay looking legacy for herself, she just needs to be more upfront from now on. Publishing the impact studies and then saying, “This is the situation; I’m your prime minister and I will do as you wish on this. If you want to push ahead despite the pain we’ve forecast, that is exactly what I will do.” Then if it is actually bad, she can at least say she did everything she could to highlight the dangers as they presented themselves. As it stands, she is in the firing line for every ounce of blame. If legacy is her concern, she should seriously consider this point carefully.