Friday, 23 June 2017

Imagine Brexit doesn't mean Brexit

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Do you remember when it all appeared so simple? Just a few weeks ago Mrs May was still delivering the mantra 'Brexit means Brexit'. That was before the general election. Now it doesn't appear so simple, and Brexit gets softer, and softer and....why?

Reality awakens. The truth is understood. Brexit isn't good. It isn't good for the economy, for jobs, for health and social care, for research, for fighting climate change, and so the negotiations now turn on how to ameliorate the harm it will do.

When these harmful effects were outlined in the EU referendum, they were dismissed as 'scare tactics' by the Leave campaign. But they are real. The government will try to negotiate some sort of access to the single market. It will do so because much of our economy depends on it. That access will come with a cost, and we will wonder what is better about it. "What's it all about Alfie? The question will be repeatedly asked. Why leave?

Ah, I hear it said 'to take back control!: But will we really be taking back control when we will have access to the single market on worse terms than we have now? Is that really sensible?

Of course, 'take back control' referred in large part to migration. We will take back control of our borders. Yet, what is this control? Is it really worth a can of beans?

Our health service is struggling with a staff shortage. It would be made much worse by our leaving the EU without making arrangements to recruit staff from the EU.

Mrs May is right, now and belatedly, to wake up to the problem. Up until the loss of her parliamentary majority she failed to give priority to the status of EU citizens working in the UK. It was a bargaining chip we were told. Now, a more sensible if not complete approach is being adopted. Let's hope it leads speedily to removing the uncertainty hanging over EU citizens resident in the UK.

I have been giving some thought on slogans Mrs May might adopt to regain her authority. She would have liked 'tough on Brexit, touch on the causes of Brexit'. But now  "Soft on Brexit, soft on the causes of Brexit' comes to mind.

When the impact of Brexit was put forward as a reason not to leave, we were told it was just an opinion. All at once 'experts' were dismissed as mischievous and plain 'wrong'. They didn't know what they were talking about, we were told. Their view was no better than...than anyone else.

And so it was that estimates of a loss of GDP of nearly ten percent modelled by the Treasury, NIESR and the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE were dismissed in favour of populist Brexiteers.  Hardened Brexiteers pointed to disagreement in economic forecasts as a reason for ignoring them.  It was a bit like ignoring all weather forecasts on the basis that the don't always get it right - it might rain, but then again it might not.   Uncertainty of forecasting is no excuse for ignoring it. 

Similarly, warnings from the IMF and the OECD of the negative impact on the British economy were dismissed. "Well they would say that wouldn't they?"  Would they? 

So Her Majesty's Treasury forecast was a negative impact of between at worse -7.5 and at best  -3.8.  Rubbish the Brexiteers cried.  The Centre for Economic Performance forecast negative impact of -9.5 to -6.3. Rubbish the Brexiteers cried.  The National Institute for Economic and Social Research had negative impact of -9.2 to -2.4. Rubbish cried the Brexiteers.  

It became a mantra to dismiss such forecasts.  Brexit would be good for the economy.  The trick was then to make it almost unpatriotic to suggest Britain would struggle and 'could not stand on our own feet'.  Don't talk the country down.  "Be proud to be British!: "Britain" we were told "is strong".  We are up for it.  It was macho bravado! Things can only get better!  Ah, wouldn't it just.  

Certainly the realities of Brexit are  nuanced. But that alone will not be sufficient to mitigate the damage.  The simplistic 'the people have voted' approach is I suspect turning to a more realistic assessment of whether or what they voted for.  Brexit doesn't simply mean Brexit.   To say people voted to leave and to ignore the consequences is frankly abrogating any kind of responsibility.  It is a kind of 'now look what you made me do!"   It is time politicians were honest about it.  It is time they stopped simplistic slogans and owned up to the consequences.  This they are now having to do now Mrs May has lost her majority. 

Some of our EU partners are now saying they wish we would stay.   I wish we would too. 

European Council President Donald Tusk has quoted lyrics from John Lennon's Imagine to suggest the door remains open to the UK staying in the EU:  "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."

You can listen to an extended version of this piece on The Thin End podcast.



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