When recently asked about the Today program to quote chapter and verse on the subject of Brexit “opportunities” Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for All Seasons, was hopelessly out of depth.
However, Gove missed a round. What he should have said, but as a registered Brexiter obviously could not, is that the only “opportunity” arising from Brexit was to conduct a scientific experiment to demonstrate that the whole idea was wrong. Plus, it was a trick of confidence in the British public, the majority of whom now realize they’ve been screwed.
As business and industry grapple with the consequences of imposing sanctions on our ability to trade with our largest market, and citizens – known to economists as “consumers” – grapple With the higher import prices imposed by the devaluation resulting from Brexit, the polls are pronouncing popular verdict on Brexit with a vengeance.
A recent YouGov poll tells us that 56% of people think we were wrong to leave the EU and only 32% that we were right. Even 19% of those who admit to having voted leave now think they were wrong. The only age group that still has a majority in favor of Brexit is the over 65s – I have to say they are not among the over 65s I come across myself, but that’s the way it is. And 88% of those who voted Labor in 2019 think furlough was the wrong decision. (Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, please note!)
It is obvious that the smarter members of the Sunak/Hunt Cabinet have received the message from the CBI and elsewhere that we must, in the interests of our economy and general well-being, join the single market. But it is love that dare not speak its name, even though it seems that attitudes towards immigration – free movement! — have changed since 2016, when the blatant Boris Johnson, himself of Turkish descent, fomented anti-immigrant sentiment with nonsense about an impending influx of Turkish immigrants.
Sunak got the message that the combination of Brexit and chaos within the Conservative Party and Brexit has led foreign observers to conclude that Britain is sinking fast. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, of the group of 20 major economies, only Russia performs worse than the United Kingdom. Yes, we were known as ‘the sick man of Europe’ until we joined the European Union and – guess what – we left the EU and regained that dubious status.
Joining the EU has done great things for this country. The Labor and Conservative governments fought it out and by and large got what they wanted. Margaret Thatcher and her right-wing negotiator Lord Cockfield played blind in setting up the single market, and John Major worked wonders in Maastricht with Britain’s opt-out of the single currency. As for right-wing concerns about an “ever closer” union, they have been duly allayed. Essentially, what these overly influential leavers achieved was a totally unnecessary Brexit that shot the economy in the foot.
The Office for Budget Responsibility calculates that the cumulative damage from Brexit will be enough to reduce our potential GDP by 4% each year. As Michael Saunders, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, put it: “The need to raise taxes [and] spending cuts would not exist if Brexit had not reduced the potential output of the economy so much. And the FinancialTimes recently reported that many of the asset managers that Sunak and Hunt were trying to appease after the Truss-Kwarteng fiasco were worried about the dangers of excessive austerity!
It was a former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Croham, who once said to the historian Lord Hennessy and to me: “What matters is not balancing the budget but balancing the economy . Yet with the recent budget and the chancellor’s “shock and horror” speech, we seem to be returning to the era of sado-monetarism. We are certainly far from having balanced the economy.
Economist Jim Ball used to say he was suspicious of the OBE – not the Order of the British Empire, but people who give you a big explainer.
For this government, the OBE for our economic problems was first Covid, then Ukraine. I’m not saying Brexit is the cause of all our problems but – my God! – he magnified them. With all due respect to the memory of the late Professor Ball, I would name Brexit as the one big explanation why this economy is doing so much worse than the rest of the G20.
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