It’s over. The Brexit debate has finally finished. The Conservative Party – the party in charge of Brexit – has effectively admitted that undoing Brexit would help to fix the UK’s economic crisis. With millions of people suffocated by poverty, and gasping for air, our government is proudly holding our heads underwater.
February marks seven years since the B-word infected every political discussion in the UK. There’s a reason why it split families and ended friendships. Both sides considered themselves to be saving the British people from catastrophic harm. Why was that?
It’s because major politicians and journalists painted Brexit as the way to save the UK from poverty and tyranny under the EU. In 2016, Rishi Sunak told us: “If we leave the EU, we will immediately save £20bn.” Now, his government’s economists say it is costing our economy £100bn a year (4 per cent of GDP). Sunak also told us Brexit would “enhance our position as a dynamic, outward-looking trading economy”. But last March, he admitted that Brexit is “a big part of the reason why” the UK’s trade exports are lagging behind similar countries.
This month, the prime minister said growing the economy was his top priority after tackling inflation. And in November, Jeremy Hunt – the person he put in charge of the economy – said rejoining the EU’s single market would improve growth. It’s also important to remember that the £100bn loss estimated by the government’s Office for Budget Responsibility equates to about £40bn in lost tax revenue. That’s money that the government could be spending to help people with their energy bills. The government could also use it to pay the £18bn needed to fund public sector workers in line with inflation, ending the strikes – and getting our economy and NHS up and running.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has known this for a long time. In 2016, he tweeted: “NHS funded through tax revenues that would disappear following Brexit, price paid by poorest and most vulnerable.” And now the Nuffield Trust has just published a study showing that Brexit is damaging the NHS, and the Bank of England recently confirmed that it has added 6 per cent to the cost of food, while record numbers are using food banks.
Let’s be clear. Nobody’s talking about rejoining the EU next week. That’s a political issue that can be discussed over the next decade. Rejoining the single market, however, is just about getting rid of the economic barriers that are choking the UK economy. Most importantly, it can be done in a few months – because it was the first deal the EU offered us back in 2017. It would involve agreeing to realign ourselves with regulations so products don’t need to be checked as they cross the border. That would mean a major boost to our economic outlook, while also combatting inflation by making our supply chains cheaper. It would therefore give the government the confidence it needs to spend more looking after the poorest in society.
Ministers will tell you they can’t do it because people voted to leave the single market. But when did we? It wasn’t on the ballot paper in 2016. And in both of the elections that followed, the majority voted for parties that were firmly committed to keeping the benefits of the single market at the very least. That is £40bn in cost of living support that we voted not to lose.
The additional poverty caused by us being out of the single market wasn’t a choice made by the British people, but by the party in power. So, as millions of people reach behind the couch cushions, hoping to scrape together just a bit more money so they can afford heating and food, the same party is in Downing Street, with £40bn in cash sat on the table – and they are effectively setting it alight. Furthermore, by admitting it publicly, the government is effectively live-streaming its monetary arson in front of millions of struggling families.
The Conservatives know the debate is over and what they need to do next. The real question is: will they?