A Ryanair plane in a Stansted hangar was not the best backdrop for George Osborne’s claim that the economic argument about the European Union is now over and that his ‘consensus’ has prevailed. In recent years, Ryanair has lost its status as the fastest-growing budget airline in Europe: that honour goes to Norwegian Air, which has thrived outside the EU. And on the day of the Chancellor’s speech, a group of Ryanair passengers had announced their intention to take out a lawsuit against the company for what they see as unfair tricks to disguise the true cost of tickets.
The Chancellor does the reverse of Ryanair: he tries to frighten us about the imaginary costs and charges of a ticket to Brexit. Far from the closing down the economic debate, however, his latest batch of scare stories raise interesting new possibilities. If house prices really were to fall, as he now tells us would happen in the event of Brexit, would that be such a bad thing? Not if you are one of the millions of young people unable to afford a home thanks to surging house price inflation over the past 20 years. Or if you want to buy a bigger property and are aghast at the amount you need to borrow to do so.
The Treasury declared this week that leaving the EU would push up inflation from its current 0.3 per cent. Again, would that really be so terrible? The target is 2 per cent. If interest rates rose, savers might be granted some relief — and the economy might, after ten years, be heading towards something resembling normality. As for the prophecy that sterling would fall, many exporters would be cock-a-hoop if it did. It would make their goods far cheaper: indeed, after a sterling correction, the problem for British manufacturers might end up being an inability to cope with demand.
It’s funny to think that just a few months ago Osborne was telling his cabinet colleagues that they could not really campaign on the economy because the arguments would be implausible.