EXCL Ministers blasted after ‘dodgy statistics’ overstate non-EU imports by £300bn
Ministers have been accused of peddling “dodgy statistics” after an embarrassing blunder saw the Government overstate how much Britain imports from countries outside the European Union by a staggering £300bn.
Official figures released this week by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) mistakenly claimed that Britain imported £537.3bn-worth of goods from non-EU countries last year.
In fact, the true figure is £237.3bn, slightly down on the previous year's figure of £238.5bn.
The gaffe was quickly pounced on by Brexit critics, who said it did not bode well for the UK’s post-EU trade hopes.
Independent Group MP Chris Leslie, who is pushing for a second Brexit referendum as part of the People’s Vote campaign, told PoliticsHome: “Perhaps this discrepancy is due to the cost of importing unicorns?
“Europe is our biggest market for exports and imports alike. No dodgy statistic changes that basic fact.”
The former Labour frontbencher added: “This looks like yet more evidence that this government is not up to the task of managing Britain’s global trade after Brexit.
“If they are releasing statistics which are wrong by hundreds of billions of pounds, how can we expect them to negotiate complex trade deals that are good for Britain?”
The gaffe came in a set of figures known as the ‘Non-EU trade by declared currency of invoice’ statistics.
The twice-yearly round-up is required under EU law.
The inaccurate table was amended after PoliticsHome flagged it with HMRC, which blamed human error for the mistake.
An HMRC spokesperson said: "We identified a document displaying data which was unfortunately incorrect due to human error and as a priority have corrected it."
A Whitehall source meanwhile pointed out that the information was not market sensitive.
But Tom Brake, Brexit spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said it was "beyond belief" that the figures could be "so wrong".
"Either someone wants to fiddle the figures to hide the impact leaving the largest trading bloc in the world will have on the UK or they are just simply grossly incompetent," the MP said.
He added: "[International Trade Secretary] Liam Fox has already had to admit that the myriad of trade deals he promised would be signed a minute after we left the EU won't be.
"If this is what Liam Fox's 'Global Britain' looks like, then we are in more of a mess than I thought."