Successive surveys show support for Brexit is plunging. YouGov regular surveys of public opinion reveal support for Brexit at a record low, with only 32 per cent saying it was right to leave compared to 56 per cent saying it was wrong. Another tracker survey – UK in a Changing Europe – shows Britons would now vote to rejoin the EU in a second referendum by a 14-point margin: a shift in opinion largely driven by younger and better educated voters.
The general public is not alone in believing that economic costs, as opposed to the zealots’ fantasy opportunities, are the reality of Brexit. The British Chambers of Commerce report that 77 per cent of its members say Brexit is not helping them increase sales. Some 56 per cent faced difficulties adapting to the new trade rules and 44 per cent identified problems in obtaining visas for staff – so much for the zealots’ risible claims that Brexit would reduce rules and regulations. Overall, 80 per cent of the firms surveyed had seen the cost of importing increase since January, more than half had seen their sales margins decrease and almost three quarters of manufacturers had experienced shortages of goods and services. Little wonder that the CBI is urging the government to ‘improve relations with the EU and to take the brakes off the country’s economy:’ implicit recognition that Brexit is bad for business.
The latest independent economic updates explain the rising concern regarding the costs of Brexit. The Centre for European Reform employed the ‘doppelgänger’ methodology – a means of selecting countries whose economic performance closely matched the UK’s before Brexit – to reveal that had it not been for Brexit, by the second quarter of 2022, Britain’s GDP would have been almost 6 per cent higher. This Brexit induced decline in performance has necessitated tax rises to fund public services and benefits. As this blog has previously pointed out, most of the tax rises announced by Tory Chancellors this year can be put down to Brexit. If the UK economy had grown in line with the doppelgänger estimate, tax revenues would have been around £40 billion higher.
The zealots’ gormless abstractions e.g., ‘taking back control’ where undoubtedly influential but in voters’ minds are now being replaced by cold reality. The newest member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, LSE Professor Swati Dhingra, has observed that Britain is heading for a lengthy and painful recession made worse by Brexit. As a leading international trade expert, Dhingra says the consequences of leaving the EU – including red tape and delays at the borders, a weaker pound and stalling business investment – have worsened Britain’s economic slump. During the referendum academics and business professionals who warned of this reality where ‘swatted aside’ as peddling ‘project fear’. As might be expected Jacob Rees-Mogg was in the forefront of ‘project fantasy’; claiming to see ‘cheaper food, clothing and footwear, helping the incomes of the least well-off’. The reality, spelt-out by the LSE, is that Brexit had added £210 to the average household’s grocery bill by the end of 2021 – 6 per cent increase.
The zealots, out of a mixture of ignorance and mendacity, claimed that outside the EU the UK would enjoy the ‘exact same benefits’ it had as a member. I doubt may British scientists now barred from the enormously beneficial Horizon programme, or students whose opportunities for European study have foundered with the UK’s withdrawal from full association with Erasmus, would agree. There are many more examples e.g., UK musicians scope to perform on the continent are now blocked, or the British holidaymakers now required to queue with their blue passports.
And what of the fantastic trade deals Brexiteers assured us would be forthcoming. Former minister, George Eustice let the cat out of the bag with his announcement that the Australian deal – the only new post Brexit deal – is bad for the UK. Kemi Badenoch, the current international trade secretary, pitifully told a recent American audience that ‘I voted to leave the EU as I saw Brexit as a once in a generation opportunity for the UK to embrace the world’. She then added ‘so why does it feel like everyone is becoming more protectionist?’ Ms Badenoch had obviously missed the warnings of experts – long before 2016 – that the world was fragmenting into three powerful trading blocs – the US, EU and China – leaving midsized unattached countries such as the UK weak and vulnerable.
If the nation’s dissatisfaction with Brexit is becoming more audible in the media and business circles the same cannot be said for our representatives in Westminster, where it appears the ‘B word’ must never be uttered. The Tories are hoist by their own petard. Brexit was always a Tory project and their only hope of avoiding a catastrophic defeat at the next election is that Starmer will make the mistake of blaming those who voted Leave. Mr Sunak quickly shut down discussion within his government regarding building closer economic links with the EU, but apparently unaware or unbelieving of the country’s changing mood, Mr Starmer (and Mr Davey) remained silent. Despite the evidence that Brexit is and will continue to inflict long-term damage on the living standards of UK households and public services, politicians do not want to discuss the issue – an example of Parliament refusing to exercise its power.
As things stand, the election will be fought on the dismal economic record of a divided and exhausted Tory party – implicitly, the consequence of an ideological obsession with the EU. What is clear is that even as he was being dishonourably removed from office Mr Johnson couldn’t resist one last lie: namely, ‘Brexit was done’. It is abundantly clear – Mr Starmer take note – that public opinion regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU is far from settled. Better public services and higher real incomes are dependent on economic growth and that is realistically dependent on re-joining the EU. The longer we hide from reality the greater the years to recover.