Most people do not realise that the prime minister has already warned us of the possible consequences of Brexit. One year ago she stood outside 10 Downing Street and made them explicit.
“If we don’t get the negotiation right, your economic security and prosperity will be put at risk and the opportunities you seek for your families will simply not happen,” she said. “If we do not stand up and get this negotiation right, we risk the secure and well-paid jobs we want for our children and our children’s children too.”
One year later, she cannot even agree a negotiating position with her own cabinet.
Her customs plans are in disarray. The Lords have voted, in the face of tabloid denunciations of treason, to keep us in the single market. The government is refusing to present new trade and customs bills to parliament for fear of their rejection. And in just seven weeks the European Union will demand a concrete and workable solution for the Irish border as a condition of progressing talks on the future trade relationship. Needless to say, the government has not yet provided one.
The government is not yet in freefall only because it has not finished building its own scaffold. Indeed, like a tower of wooden Jenga blocks, the structure stands—for a period—while one brick at a time, it gets dismantled from within.
A key block is perhaps the most overlooked: the current state of the national finances. While the prime minister no longer mentions the risks to our prosperity or our grandchildren’s future careers, the economy is incontrovertibly flatlining. News recently emerged that the UK had posted just 0.1 per cent growth in the first quarter of 2018—the lowest figure in six years. The Bank of England has reduced growth forecasts for the year from 1.8 per cent to 1.4 per cent. The respected economic commentator Will Hutton, pointing to stalled manufacturing and investment figures, speculates about an approaching recession.
The government, contradicted by the Office for National Statistics but largely unchallenged by a distracted media, attributes this economic paralysis to the snow. Certainly, the economy appears to be entering a deep freeze—and the government’s response is to remove the insulation and tear out the radiators. What medicine, after all, could be stronger or tougher than imposing comprehensive trade barriers with our largest market,…