THERE is a predictable narrative taking hold. Everything bad is the fault of Brexit. If you dare disagree, and point to other factors being responsible for, say, the cost-of-living crisis, you’ll be branded a fascist.
The usual suspects have been playing the Brexit blame game again. Alastair Campbell was true to form as he verbally bludgeoned the Brexiteer and former MEP Alex Phillips on Newsnight on May 11.
But it is Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian who takes the biscuit. According to his column last week, Brexiteers are not only responsible for our poor economic performance and housing crisis, but in their desire to find scapegoats for their failed project, they have caused the descent of public discourse into something more akin to that found in the beerhalls of 1920s Munich.
Mr Freedland is worried that something very dark lurks beyond the horizon: Nazism (though it’s a word we never hear the Guardian’s journalists say). A forbidding spectre indeed.
He says that our post-Brexit trading arrangements threaten the survival of our automotive industry and points out that the IMF predicts we’re going to be one of the worst performing economies in the world – possibly 20th among the G20 nations. Consequently, we are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, an acute housing shortage and NHS waiting lists at record levels.
This, of course, is simplistic stuff, and eminently refutable. IMF predictions are notoriously inaccurate, and as if to emphasise my point, they have upgraded their UK growth forecasts for the second time in as many months. The UK’s projected growth is now above that of Germany’s – a country apparently immune to such economic turbulence because of its membership of the European Union.
Freedland also conveniently fails to mention the boom in our services exports. According to OECD data, they grew by 17.8pc in real terms from 2016 to 2022. That’s the fastest growth in the G7, and it’s the result of Brexit and the consequent devaluation of sterling.
Furthermore, one cannot ignore the fact that both the war in Ukraine and our response to Covid may have had something to do with our current cost-of-living crisis and NHS backlog. Is that the fault of Brexit? Most EU countries are suffering from the same ailments. They didn’t vote to leave.
And how can you possibly ignore immigration when considering the causes of the housing crisis? Annual net migration of over 500,000 is inevitably going to put pressure on our housing stock, as well as our GP surgeries and schools.
But I shouldn’t say that too loudly. Just as I mustn’t say that the 5million people on out-of-work benefits should be incentivised to do the jobs being currently filled by migrant labour – now that would reduce the pressure on housing. Or that by increasing taxes and refusing to cut spending, our half-hearted, apologetic government has failed to capitalise on the economic advantages bequeathed by our decision to leave the EU.
In short, there are too many causal factors at play to opine on whether Brexit has failed or succeeded. We have had Covid, the Ukrainian conflict and myriad governmental responses and decisions that determine economic, social and cultural outcomes. Blaming every ill – real and sometimes imagined – on Brexit is intellectually lazy.
Mr Freedland will no doubt disagree, however, and accuse me of fascism for rejecting his monocausal prejudice and pointing to a complex nexus of variables that determine events.
He may even set Alastair Campbell on me.