PM says 'Spreadsheet Phil' got his numbers wrong

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond Photo: PA

It seems 'Spreadsheet Phil' might not be as good at numbers as his nickname suggests.

Speaking on her way to South Africa, the Prime Minister claimed her Chancellor's figures were out of date when he warned last week that a No Deal Brexit would be 'damaging' to the UK's economy.

When we asked Theresa May what she thought of his doom-laden predictions, she replied, "The Chancellor was talking about a set of figures that came out in January... they were a work in progress."

That half-finished homework enraged many Conservative MPs last week, several of whom have called for the Chancellor to be sacked over his intervention.

The Chancellor warned last week that a No Deal Brexit would be 'damaging' to the UK's economy. Credit: PA

His claim that Britain would be £80bn worse off if we crash out was curiously timed to coincide with the Brexit Secretary's attempt to reassure Britain that No Deal was manageable.

It would seem the Prime Minister prefers the more optimistic outlook.

Repeating her mantra that 'No Deal is better than a bad deal', she added

"Look at what the director of the World Trade Organisation has said.

It would not be a walk in the park, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world

– Prime Minister Theresa May

He said about a No Deal situation that it would not be a walk in the park, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world."

When I asked her whether she agreed with her International Trade Secretary that the chance of No Deal was now 60-40, she wouldn't be drawn on the probabilities, but told me she still remains "confident" of a deal, insisting that Britain would make a success of Brexit either way.

Incredibly, nor is she giving up on her deadline of reaching a deal by October, telling us that she is still working to that timetable despite expectations that negotiations will need to continue until December (at least).

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Of course, the Prime Minister would much rather be talking about life beyond the EU.

She's landed this morning in South Africa for a three day tour of the continent, which will also include stops in Nigeria and Kenya.

Africa is the world's youngest continent. By 2034 it will have a larger working-age population than either China or India, while much of the rest of the world ages.

With the growth of Asian economies beginning to slow, attention is fast turning to sub-Saharan Africa as the next global powerhouse.

That isn't anything new, but the timing of this trip is obvious.

The Prime Minister believes Brexit provides an opportunity to rethink our relationship with Africa, which has long been neglected.

While China has poured in investment, and the likes of France have nurtured diplomatic ties stretching back to the imperial age, Britain has virtually mothballed many of its embassies and high commissions.

Prime Minister Theresa May wants Britain to be the top investor in Africa. Credit: PA

So the PM has set herself a new target.

By 2022 she wants Britain to be the top investor in Africa among the G7 nations.

An ambitious aim, given we lag significantly behind America at the moment.

But let's keep things in perspective.

The three counties we'll visit this week with Theresa May imported just £7bn of British goods and services last year.

Our exports to the EU were worth £274bn.

And with just a few weeks left for Theresa May to get a Brexit deal, many may wonder whether she's spending her time on the wrong continent.

Because if Phil hasn't got his spreadsheets muddled, then the cost of No Deal would be three times the value of all our exports to Africa.