Robert Tombs Robert Tombs

Remainers should be honest about the costs of Brexit

Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP via Getty Images

Those opposed to leaving the European Union repeatedly accuse Brexit of being based on ignorance fed by lies. The ‘lie’ they invariably refer to is the £350 million on the side of the Boris bus. In reality, it was the Remain campaign, and its interminable Rejoiner sequel, that was and is based on systematic distortions and gross misunderstandings.

One might shrug one’s shoulders if the distortions came only from business lobbies, EU-funded think tanks, the subsidised European media and the like. But some of the most damaging originate within the British state and its associated bodies. No one denies that the Civil Service has been and remains overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit. The ardent Remainer Lord Adonis said that the 2016 vote caused ‘a nervous breakdown’ in Whitehall. Subsequent comments, articles and books by senior officials amply confirm this impression. Michel Barnier noted in his diary that British officials were ‘unhappy’ and ‘embarrassed’ when a minister tried to take a strong line. The same mindset is patent in economic forecasts.  

Rejoiner propagandists like nothing better than to refer to ‘official figures’ and ‘the government’s own figures’ when trying to blame all our ills on Brexit. Supposedly pro-Brexit ministers have been deplorably reluctant to disavow misleading statistics. It was refreshing when Kemi Badenoch firmly rejected an economic forecast originating in her own Department of International Trade. More on that later. 

Let us briefly recall just a few ‘official figures’. The mainstay of ‘Project Fear’ in 2016 was the Treasury report on ‘the immediate economic impact’ of Brexit: ‘a vote to leave would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy… a recession… an increase in unemployment of around 500,000, GDP would be 3.6 per cent smaller.’ Of course, there was no recession and the UK economy grew faster than the Eurozone.

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Written by
Robert Tombs

Robert Tombs is an emeritus professor in history at the University of Cambridge and the author of This Sovereign Isle: Britain in and out of Europe (Allen Lane, 2021). He also edits the History Reclaimed website

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