The post-Brexit landscape looks to be so bleak, the government decided to keep the public in the dark.
A leaked Brexit impact assessment, seen by BuzzFeed News, shows almost every region and sector of the UK will be worse off after Brexit.
The document dated January 2018, which was prepared by Whitehall officials for the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) and modelled on the three most plausible scenarios, paints such a sombre picture that the government thought it was best to keep it from the public.
It is understood Cabinet ministers have been shown the document individually and also told they can’t take copies out of the briefing room.
When asked by BuzzFeed News why “EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing” was being kept private, a source at DExEU said: “Because it’s embarrassing!”
According to the analysis, the UK’s growth would be down 5% over the next 15 years even if PM Theresa May can negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA).
That loss could potentially rise to 8% if Britain left the European Union without a deal and was forced to fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
Alternatively, if the UK managed to retain access to the single market through membership of the European Economic Area, growth would decline by just 2%. However, May has all but taken that option off the table.
Almost every sector of the British economy would take a hit under the three scenarios, with the chemical, apparel, aviation, automotive and retail industries likely to be the worst off. In fact, only the agriculture sector would not be adversely affected under the WTO scenario.
And no region of the UK would be better off, with the North East, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland (before the possibility of a hard border has even been taken into account) forecast for the biggest loss of growth.
London, meanwhile, is expected to lose some of its gloss as a financial centre, with the difference being very little between the FTA and WTO scenarios.
On the plus side, under the new modelling assumptions a trade deal with the US is concluded in all the scenarios, offsetting lost trade with the EU when Britain leaves the single market and customs union.
A government spokesman said: “We have been clear that we are not prepared to provide a running commentary on any aspect of this ongoing internal work and that ministers have a duty not to publish anything that could risk exposing our negotiation position.”
The leak is sure to provide ammunition to so-called “soft Brexiters” like chancellor Philip Hammond, who are calling for only “very modest” changes to the UK’s current relationship with the EU.