Andrew Neil hit back at critics “trying to belittle” Britain’s biggest post-Brexit trade deal.
The veteran broadcaster insisted estimates suggesting that accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will boost the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) by just 0.08 percent are “hopelessly out of date”.
In a lengthy tweet, he said: “Those trying to belittle our new Trans-Pacific trade deal bandy around a claim that it will add only 0.08 percent to our GDP, without ever checking the provenance of this stat.
“All manner of professors, pundits and polemicists are using it, carelessly.
“It comes from a civil service 2021 scoping exercise which used 2014 figures and is therefore hopelessly out of date for economies which have grown faster than most in the past decade.
“We don’t have a more up-to-date assessment. Which probably doesn’t matter since it would almost certainly wrong.
“The New Zealand/China free trade deal was scoped to increase trade fivefold in 11 years; it did so in 11 months.”
Mr Neil – widely regarded as Britain’s toughest political interrogator – also hit out at “misleading” descriptions of the agreement being worth £12trillion.
He said: “It merely refers to the combined GDP of the countries involved. It’s not ‘worth’ £12trillion to us.
“However it does further liberalise trade between us and a group of economies whose share of global GDP and world trade is rising fast (whereas the EU’s shares are falling) and other fast-growing economies are queuing to join. That’s obviously a good thing for our 21st-century trade.”
But Mr Neil insisted the UK should still be pushing for a “far better” trade pact with the EU.
He added: “Of course, no free trade deal can be as seamless as the single market. But unless we want to litigate Brexit all over again that option is out for now.
“Yet we could have a better free trade deal than the one we have — a challenge for the next government to negotiate.”
Mr Neil’s comments come after Kemi Badenoch signed off UK membership to the Indo-Pacific trade bloc in New Zealand on Sunday.
Britain is the first new member and first European nation to join the club – comprising Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – since its formation in 2018.
It represents Britain’s biggest trade deal since leaving the EU.
The signing marked the formal confirmation of the agreement for the UK’s membership, which was reached in March after two years of negotiations.
Britain and the other 11 CPTPP members now begin work to ratify the deal, which in the UK will involve parliamentary scrutiny and legislation to bring it into force.
Officials estimate it will come into force in the second half of 2024, at which point the UK becomes a voting member of the bloc and businesses can benefit from it.
Before putting pen to paper in Auckland alongside ministers from CPTPP nations, Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “I’m delighted to be here in New Zealand to sign a deal that will be a big boost for British businesses and deliver billions of pounds in additional trade, as well as open up huge opportunities and unparalleled access to a market of over 500 million people.
“We are using our status as an independent trading nation to join an exciting, growing, forward-looking trade bloc, which will help grow the UK economy and build on the hundreds of thousands of jobs CPTPP-owned businesses already support up and down the country.”