Michael Gove, a leading Brexit campaigner, has renewed his argument that economic experts need to be challenged and defended the Vote Leave slogan from the referendum campaign, saying that the NHS will get £350m a week after the UK leaves the EU.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Gove expanded on his controversial claim during the Brexit campaign that the public had “had enough of experts” from economic bodies known by their acronyms.
In a debate with Stephanie Flanders, the economist and former BBC journalist, he even cited an expert professor to support his argument that expert economists were not good at making predictions.
“Sometimes we’re invited to take experts as though they were prophets, as though their words were carved in tablets of stone and that we had to simply meekly bow down before them and accept their verdict,” he said.
“I think the right response in a democracy to assertions made by experts is to say ‘show us the evidence, show us the facts’. And then, if experts or indeed anyone in the debate can make a strong case, draw on evidence and let us think again, then of course they deserve respect.”
He mentioned an academic study that showed experts in a range of fields were more susceptible to groupthink, and that other experts besides economists could be treated as more reliable guides for future trends.
He added: “The people I was singling out for scepticism were those such as the economists from organisations like the IMF, who’ve got big issues like the wisdom of joining the euro wrong in the past.
“The IMF didn’t just get the arguments wrong over the single currency, they called the EU referendum wrongly too.”
However, he agreed with Flanders that the views of experts should not be dismissed out of hand. “We need to make sure the taking back control and exercise of democratic restoration doesn’t descend into iconoclasm and a distaste for elites and experts simply on the basis of their expertise or success in the past,” Gove said.
“But what I believe in is radically challenging them but not attempting to overturn them out of sheer distrust or distaste.”
Flanders, a former BBC economics editor who now works for JP Morgan, agreed that economists had a long record of being wrong on direct forecasts, while expressing concerns about the consequences of expertise being dismissed out of hand.
“I think we’ve seen over the last few years economists and indeed the elite, the technocrats, can be wrong in some pretty big areas,” she said. “They were wrong in their assumptions about certain financial instruments and developments, which helped contribute to the financial crisis.
“You get groupthink, you can certainly get elites being out of touch, and we’ve seen all of that and that’s why I think, in a sense, Michael had captured something with that phrase.”
The former justice and education secretary was also asked about his use of statistics during the referendum campaign, when Vote Leave claimed £350m a week would be spent on the NHS.
Gove said the figure was robust and argued it could not yet be proved true or false because the UK had not yet left the EU. “The money is there and it’s for the government to decide how to spend it once we leave,” he said.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, was not convinced, tweeting:
Gove also got into a spat on Twitter after he was asked to defend a report by Change Britain, a successor group to Vote Leave, which argued this week that withdrawing from the single market and customs union could save even more – at least £450m a week.
The report’s figures have been called “meaningless” and “junk” by Jonathan Portes, a former chief economist of the Cabinet Office, and “fantasy figures” by the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, as they add together benefits from trade deals and government savings from stopping contributions to the EU budget.
Asked about the £450m and £350m claims by Portes and David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, Gove suggested remain supporters should be showing “humility” in the face of defeat.
“Guys! You all backed Remain. Has that prompted any humility? Interested to hear if so,” he tweeted.
Portes said he was neutral in the referendum and asked for a retraction.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 28th December 2016 11.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010