The official statistics watchdog has reprimanded the Conservatives for claiming the UK had secured £800bn in “new free trade deals” since leaving the EU, saying the figure includes deals rolled over from before Brexit.
The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) said it had written to the Tories about the infographic, shared last month by Michael Gove among others, also warning that the party should provide sources for such figures in the future.
The Scottish National party’s trade spokesperson, Drew Hendry, wrote to the UKSA about Gove’s use of the Tory graphic, which said: “We’ve secured new free trade deals with over 70 countries since 2016. That’s over £800bn worth of new free trade.”
In a response, the UKSA’s chair, Sir Robert Chote, said that while no citation or source was provided, he assumed the £800bn total came from the £559bn in net trade with EU countries in 2021, plus the £245bn in post-2016 deals with 71 non-EU nations, some of which had also been a rollover of the pre-Brexit deals with the wider EU.
“Under the principles of intelligent transparency, we would expect the infographic to include a source for the figure so that the public can verify the numbers, understand the definitions used and put the data into context,” Chote wrote to Hendry.
“More specifically in this case, it is misleading to describe the £800bn figure as a measure of ‘new global trade’ resulting from the recent deals. That would imply that there had been no trade with these countries before the recent deals and that there would be none now without them.
“We have spoken to the Conservative party and asked that any future communications include a link or reference to the source of statistics. We have also requested that the party be more transparent about the context and assumptions that have been made to construct such statements and infographics.”
Hendry said Gove’s tweet showed he had been “spreading misleading and completely inaccurate statistics on social media”, and should correct the record.
“Brexit has, and will continue to be, an unmitigated disaster for households and businesses across these islands, reducing Scottish exports by a staggering £2.2bn in the last year alone.
“Ultimately though, what Brexit has shown is how threadbare the case for continued Westminster control has become. Scotland needs an alternative, and that alternative is independence within the European Union.”
Asked about the UKSA’s letter, a Conservative party spokesperson said: “Since Brexit the UK has signed deals with 71 countries plus the EU, accounting for over £800bn worth of trade last year.”