LONDON — Economist Jonathan Portes has described as “entirely fictional” claims that leaving the customs union as part of a “hard Brexit” could create nearly 400,000 jobs.
The claims were made by pro-Brexit think tank Change Britain, which is backed by prominent Leave campaigner Michael Gove.
It said that leaving the free trade zone, which comprises European Union member states and several others, would create 387,580 jobs in manufacturing and services as the UK was freed up to forge independent trade deals across the world — something membership of the EU prohibits.
Portes was until last week the most senior economist at the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), a think tank which has made numerous warnings about the economic impact of Brexit, and is now a professor of economics at King’s College London. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday that the figures did not take into account any potential risks of leaving the customs union.
“The point of trade deals is to increase exports to the countries we make deals with and imports from the countries we make deals with, because we reduce barriers to trade,” he said.
“Change Britain are counting the number of jobs they claim would be created by extra exports, but just ignoring jobs that would be lost by extra imports. That obviously makes no sense.”
“In practice most economists would expect jobs created from free trade deals — they are a good thing — to be balanced out by the jobs they destroy. This is basic economics,” he added.
Portes added that some facts included in the report were factually wrong. “[The report] scores the benefits of a free trade deal we could do with Korea outside the European Union. The European Union already has a deal with South Korea. It’s been pretty much in force since 2011.
“Potentially we could lose that if we leave the EU — so they’re counting something as a benefit when it’s actually a cost.”
Portes became engaged in a Twitter spat with Gove in December after describing an earlier Change Britain report — which claimed leaving the EU would boost the UK economy by £450 million a week — as “junk.”
Gove refused to say whether he endorsed Change Britain reports since launching the think tank, only adding that “hard cheese and sour grapes are never a good combination.”
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