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What might the eventual loss of welfare be? Surely, it would be at most 2 or 3 per cent of national output. The Germans, French, Spanish and so on are productive by global standards and compete hard with high-quality, well-priced products. But everything we buy from the EU can in fact be made elsewhere. (Holidays on the Continent, and the enjoyment of Europe’s magnificent culture, would be the only big items that cannot be substituted by alternative non-EU suppliers.) To repeat, in the most cataclysmic imaginable circumstances the loss of the UK’s welfare and output could not approach 12 per cent of their future potential value. It could not approach that figure even if the EU 27 ceased to exist altogether. But, if the Buzzfeed reports on the contents of EU Exit Analysis: Cross Whitehall Briefing are to be believed, Whitehall departments in their collective wisdom — with the Treasury to the fore — have persuaded themselves that the loss would be no less than 8 per cent down in a “no deal” WTO-only Brexit scenario. Obviously, something has gone wrong.

The discussion of the last few paragraphs may have seemed over-the-top and hypothetical. But Britain and the nations we now happily characterise as “our European partners” have been through a full-scale dress rehearsal for the cataclysm being conjectured. The six years of the Second World War caused trade between the UK and the nations of continental Europe to come to a virtual halt. Trade diversion was massive and undoubtedly welfare-reducing. But — surprisingly perhaps — no economic historian has talked about or estimated the loss of long-term UK supply capacity due to the trade disruption. The statistics show that UK output was much higher in the 1950s than in the 1930s, despite the horrors of the Second World War in the middle. Given this precedent, the claim that in a peacetime, semi-free-trade context the UK could lose 8 per cent of its supply capacity 15 years after leaving the EU — and purely as a result of leaving it — is preposterous.

Lord Armstrong, Cabinet Secretary from 1979 to 1987, wrote a letter to The Times of February 12 insisting that civil servants do not allow “personal bias to infect their findings”. But — if senior civil servants have not let bias enter their research on Brexit and the consequent presentations to ministers — more serious questions have to be asked. It is far worse for the UK’s top mandarins to be intellectually incompetent and devoid of judgment than for them to have opinions and prejudices of their own. The doorstep leaflet of 1975 was a dry run for Project Fear in spring 2016, and both that leaflet and Project Fear came from British officialdom. They have been thoroughly discredited by events. Sadly, the Civil Service cannot learn from its mistakes. Assuming that the contents of EU Exit Analysis: Cross Whitehall Briefing has been correctly reported by Buzzfeed, the document is indeed embarrassing. It is embarrassing not because it undermines the policies being pursued by the British government in response to the Brexit referendum result, but because it confirms the unfitness of the Whitehall official “machine” to advise ministers on economic issues critical to Britain’s future.
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