The combined power of official economists was brought to bear on the referendum campaign on Monday as chancellor George Osborne unveiled a 200-page document that told Britons they would be “permanently poor” outside the European Union.
In dense economic-speak littered with figures in billions and equations, the document claimed families will be £4,300 poorer per year, taxes and prices would go up, and 44% of British exports to the EU would be adversely affected.
The David Cameron government has taken a pro-EU position on the June 23 referendum, while six ministers and others have been campaigning for leaving the 28-state grouping. The “referendum period” officially came into force on April 15.
The Brexit camp was quick to pick holes in Osborne’s headline figures, including the claim that the British economy outside the EU will be 6% smaller.
“The idea you can predict anything in any economy 14 years ahead is quite absurd...It is simply not credible,” said Tory MP Liam Fox, while others saw it as part of “scaremongering” and “Project Fear”.
The treasury document addresses three scenarios put forth by the Brexit camp, and rejects each of them: membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway; a negotiated bilateral agreement, such as that between the EU and Switzerland, Turkey or Canada, and World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership without any form of specific agreement with the EU – like Russia or Brazil.
Osborne said: “It is a perfectly honest position to say that Britain would be worse off but that is a price worth paying. But don’t pretend to the British people that leaving the EU comes at no economic cost.
“For me, in the end, it’s not just about the economics. It’s about who we are as a country. The Britain I love is open, confident in its values and ready to shape the future of our world. I don’t want Britain to be like Norway or like Canada or anyone else.”