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Anna Soubry exaggerates trade damage

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 15.03.2016

Anna Soubry, minister for small business, engaged in a spot of unintentional scaremongering on BBC’s “Any Questions”. If we leave the EU, she said, our exports to the continent will fall to “almost absolutely zero”.

Soubry has since told InFacts that she “may not have chosen the right words to express my concerns. I meant to say there would be great uncertainty about our future exports to the EU if we vote to leave”.

If the UK quits the EU, barring any unforeseen catastrophes, the worst case scenario is trade taking place under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

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The WTO limits the extent to which the EU could put tariffs on UK goods post-Brexit. While it doesn’t do a great deal to alleviate non-tariff barriers, or indeed service industries like finance, it does present a realistic alternative model for trade. The US, Japan and China, to name just three nations, export to the EU under WTO rules. There is no realistic scenario under which our exports would fall to zero.

On the other hand, if Soubry had said what she now says she meant – that the future of our exports would be uncertain – she would have been correct. Until the Leave camp spells out what relationship it wants with the EU, Brexit is a leap in the dark.

Edited by Hugo Dixon