Justice minister Phillip Lee said the government could not ‘dismiss’ assessments that found the UK would do worse outside the EU
A Tory minister faces calls to quit today after suggesting Brexit should be stopped if it would harm the economy.
Justice minister Phillip Lee said the government could not ‘dismiss’ leaked draft assessments that found the UK would do worse economically outside the EU.
He warned there were ‘serious questions’ about whether it would be ‘legitimate’ for Brexit to be pushed through despite evidence it would cause ‘damage’.
A Downing Street spokesman said this afternoon that Dr Lee had been reprimanded. ‘He’s been spoken to by the chief whip. He has been reminded he can best air his views in private,’ the spokesman said.
‘He was asked to air his views in private in future.’
The draft assessments will be demanded by Parliament later and Downing Street admitted today it would have no choice but to publish, despite ministers deriding them as wrong.
Dr Lee’s incendiary comments sparked fury from Eurosceptics – who said he should resign if he wanted to go against government policy. A Brexiteer minister told MailOnline the breach of collective responsibility was ‘quite extraordinary’.
The intervention marks a dramatic escalation of the row over leaked impact assessments which claimed Britain will be worse off whatever deal is done with the EU.
The papers suggest even a Norway-style arrangement keeping the UK in the single market would be a drag on the economy over the next 15 years.
Referring to the findings on Twitter, Dr Lee said: ‘If these figures turn out to be anywhere near right, there would be a serious question over whether a government could legitimately lead a country along a path that the evidence and rational consideration indicate would be damaging.
‘We can’t just dismiss this and move on. If there is evidence to the contrary, we need to see and consider that too.’
Mr Lee was not reprimanded for what he said – that Brexit could be rethought – but only for airing it publicly.
Downing Street refused to comment on whether it allowed policy to be directed by evidence or political dogma.
Dr Lee made his extraordinary intervention on Twitter last night, suggesting the government could not continue with Brexit if it was forecast to damage the economy
Theresa May dismissed the paper as a draft today, pointing out it made no attempt to model the kind of comprehensive free trade deal being pursued by the Government.
Speaking to reporters on a flight to China, the Prime Minister said: ‘There is analysis being done. This is very preliminary.
‘What has been seen so far is a selective interpretation of a very preliminary analysis, which ministers have not signed off, have not approved, and which doesn’t actually even look at the sort of deal that we want to deliver in terms of the future relationship with the European Union.’
Opposition MPs and some pro-Remain Tories have demanded the release of the documents, which were leaked to the Buzzfeed website.
A Commons vote will be held on the papers later after Labour used an arcane tool to demand they are published in full.
Mrs May said it would be ‘wrong’ to release anything that could weaken her hand in talks with Brussels.
Despite the PM’s dismissal of the draft document, Downing Street admitted today if Parliament demanded it the papers would be given to MPs.
The Prime Minister and her husband Philip looked to be enjoying the show at the Crane Tower in Wuhan this morning. Mrs May is visiting China
Theresa May seemed to be enjoying herself at the event in Wuhan this morning
Mrs May pledged MPs would be given ‘appropriate’ information before they vote on the final deal, probably at the end of this year.
She added: ‘When the time comes for Parliament to vote on the final deal, we will ensure that Parliament has the appropriate analysis on which to be fully informed, on which to base their judgement.
WHAT DID THERESA MAY AND PREMIER LI DISCUSS IN BEIJING AND HOW COULD IT BOOST TRADE?
Beef is going back on the menu
Premier Li Keqiang told a press conference after the talks that China would open up its markets to UK products – including agricultural products.
British beef is expected to be back on the menu in China within six months as a result – decades after it was barred as a result of the BSE scare.
They want to enhance the ‘Golden Era’
Mrs May said she was pleased that they had agreed to intensify the ‘Golden Era’ in the UK-China relationship.
The PM said ‘much progress’ had been made in UK-China relations since the state visit of President Xi to Britain in 2015.
Mr Li said it might be ‘winter’ in Beijing but it was ‘springtime’ for ties between the nations.
Brexit will not damage relations
Mr Li said Britain’s decision to leave the EU would make no difference to the bilateral relationship.
Premier Li said: ‘Our relationship will not change with the changes of EU-UK relations.
‘We will have assessment and discussion on our trade relationship to make our economic and trade relationship go forward.’
Mrs May added that Britain would be more ‘outward looking’ after leaving the EU. ‘We are committed to building on our deep and mature ties,’ she said. ‘We believe that is in the best interests of the UK.’
North Korea sanctions
Mr Li said they had agreed effective implementation of sanctions against North Korea was essential.
‘We agree that its pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes is illegal, reckless and poses an unacceptable threat to international security,’ she said.
‘We have agreed that the full and effective implementation of UN Security sanctions is vital to persuade the North Korean regime to change course and abandon its illegal activity.’
‘But it would be wrong to publish analysis before that analysis has been completed, and it would also be wrong to publish analysis which might prejudice out negotiating position, and indeed Parliament itself has accepted that.’
However, Dr Lee went significantly further by suggesting that Brexit might not happen if the final impact assessment of a deal with Brussels was negative.
‘We can’t just dismiss this and move on. If there is evidence to the contrary, we need to see and consider that too,’ he wrote.
‘The PM has been dealt some tough cards and I support her mission to make the best of them. It’s time for evidence, not dogma, to show the way.
‘We must act for our country’s best interests, not ideology & populism, or history will judge us harshly. Our country deserves no less.’
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen suggested Dr Lee should resign if he wanted to go against government policy.
He said: ‘The chief whip needs to impose collective responsibility discipline across the government. If he wants to espouse his own views then he should be on the backbenches where he would be free to do so.
‘His comments are inaccurate. He said if there is any truth in these figures, but the fact is there is not. They will be proved wrong again.
‘It is an attempt to undermine Brexit minister Steve Baker’s response on behalf of the government to the urgent question yesterday.’
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘He knows whether these figures are right does he? There is a big “if” in there.
‘This report is from the same people that produced every failed report so far. It uses the same model and is therefore very limited, does not deal with all eventualities and therefore should be dismissed out of hand.
‘What he does is a matter for him and the government.’
Mrs May was challenged on the domestic infighting blighting her premiership at a press conference in China today.
But she insisted she was focused on delivering the ‘British dream’.
‘If you look at what we’ve been doing over the recent weeks and months, I think that there are many people in the United Kingdom want to ensure that they are their families can achieve the British dream of ensuring that each generation has a better future than the last,’ she said.
‘For a lot of young people, that’s about owning their own home, being able to get their foot on the housing ladder.
‘We’ve cut stamp duty for 95 per cent of first time buyers and I’m pleased to say that figures out only last week show that we have seen the highest number of first-time buyers in the last year for a decade.’