AS Sherlock Holmes observed, it is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data.
You don’t have to be a lover of great tales of detection to appreciate the value of a dispassionate, fact-based analysis of any complex situation.
For months, our region’s business leaders have been crying out for a straight answer to one question: “How will Brexit affect Yorkshire?”
It is not naive or foolish to believe that our Government should be in a position to provide taxpayers with an honest assessment of how the region will fare after we leave the EU.
After receiving this data, employers great and small could make plans. Economic growth would become much easier to achieve.
When Theresa May triggered Article 50, starting the two-year countdown to Brexit, it seemed reasonable to assume that the Government had given plenty of thought to how UK regions, like Yorkshire, would perform in the long term.
James Reed, our former Political Editor, tried to establish precisely what the Government’s own researchers had found out about the likely shape of the post-Brexit world.
His quest was to end in disappointment. The Department for Exiting the European Union, refused, in response to Freedom of Information requests, to “confirm or deny” it has analysed the potential impact of Brexit on Yorkshire.
It said answering the question could lead to “pre-emptive and reactionary assumptions from stakeholders” and that there was an “overwhelming public interest” in refusing the request.
The Government also claimed that confirming or denying this information exists could “undermine the UK’s negotiations with the EU”.
So, if you’re a fast-growing Yorkshire firm which values its relationship with partners in the EU, you’re suffering from a singular lack of official data about the future. In the absence of data, how can you construct theories about how you will perform, in say, 2022? Sherlock Holmes would have thrown down his pipe in despair.
It’s hardly surprising that many business figures lack confidence in the way the Government is approaching the most important peace time talks in our history.
In the absence of any official guidance, who can tell us what life could be like after Brexit? Business has to depend on reports from analysts, which, in some cases do not paint a rosy picture.
The annual ‘State of the North’ report from leading think-tank IPPR North predicts that Brexit will have nearly twice the impact on the North’s gross domestic product as London’s, partly because it is more dependent on trade with the EU.
By contrast, Axel Koelsch, of law firm Addleshaw Goddard, believes that London is more likely to be affected by changes in foreign investment decisions after Brexit than the regions.
He added: “The old adage is that we overestimate the impact of things in the short run and underestimate the impact in the long run.”
Businesses in Yorkshire have found ways to thrive during feast and famine. Seismic shocks, like the financial crash of 2008, may have knocked them off their stride, but in the long term they regained their footing.
Firms that survived wars and financial bubbles should be able to deal with Brexit. But they are entitled to greater transparency from the Government.
It seems laughable to claim that the publication of data about Brexit’s impact on, say, the manufacturing sector in Yorkshire, could seriously undermine our negotiating position with the EU.
Supporters of Brexit have always claimed that the referendum vote was all about taking back control, and making Government more accountable to the governed.
We’ve become an impoverished nation if the Government cannot disclose all it knows about Brexit to the people.
As Holmes knew too well, it creates an unhealthy environment in which one begins to twist facts to suit theories.