Mark Carney. Picture: REUTERS
Mark Carney. Picture: REUTERS

Bank of England (BoE) governor Mark Carney hit back at critics of the central bank’s warnings of a potentially big Brexit hit to the economy, denying allegations of scare-mongering made by some legislators who oppose Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans.

The BoE said last week that Britain could suffer greater damage to its economy than during the global financial crisis under a worst-case exit from the EU.

Carney, speaking to legislators on Tuesday, denied a suggestion that the BoE’s scenarios were rushed out to help May get support for her Brexit plan and stressed that the central bank had been asked to provide them by legislators.

“There’s no exam crisis. We didn’t just stay up all night and write a letter to the treasury committee,” Carney said. “You asked for something that we had, and we brought it, and we gave it to you.”

Less than four months before Britain is due to exit the EU, it remains unclear whether it will leave with a transition deal in place to smooth the shock for the economy.

May’s Brexit agreement with EU leaders faces deep opposition in parliament, including from within her own Conservative Party, ahead of a key vote on December 11.

Pro-Brexit critics of Carney, who regularly accuse him of political meddling, dismissed last week’s BoE report as part of a “Project Hysteria”.

Former BoE governor Mervyn King on Tuesday lamented the central bank’s involvement in what he said is an attempt to frighten the country about Brexit.

“It saddens me to see the Bank of England unnecessarily drawn into this project,” he said in an article published by Bloomberg.

Carney took a couple of barely concealed swipes at King, saying Britain had paid the price for not focusing on risks from the banking sector before the global financial crisis and had misunderstood the importance of wholesale funding for lenders.

Brexit shocks

Asked by legislators about the BoE’s worst-case scenarios, he said they are “low-probability events” but ones the central bank should consider to make sure Britain’s banking system could withstand any Brexit shocks.

“We’re already sleeping soundly at night, because we have the financial sector, the core of the financial sector, in a position that it needs to be for a tough scenario,” he said.

But he said the price of food could rise 10% if Britain leaves the EU with no deal and with no mitigating arrangements to avoid chaos at the country’s ports.

Carney also said Britain’s ports are not ready for even a managed shift to World Trade Organisation rules for the country’s exports and imports with the EU.

“Don’t assert what is not correct,” he snapped at one legislator who said the BoE has not considered the possibility of substituting trade with the EU for other markets.

Carney reiterated his opposition to ceding decision-making over rules for the banking sector to the EU after Brexit — a potential consequence of the “Norway-style” arrangement that some legislators would prefer to May’s Brexit plans.

“We would not be comfortable … outsourcing supervision of this incredibly complex, incredibly important financial sector,” he said.