Saturday 4 June 2016

What is in the Brexit "mystery box"

The Vote Leave campaign have been making all kinds of completely uncosted pledges about what a vote for Brexit could deliver:

Increased NHS funding and reduced waiting times (Boris Johnson) lower house prices for first time buyers (Chris Grayling), lower food prices (the Vote Leave campaign document), lower energy bills (Michael Gove, Boris Johnson), increased landowner subsidies (Boris Johnson), reduced business rates (John Longworth) increased wages (Michael Gove, Boris Johnson), increased primary school places (Priti Patel) better digital connectivity (John Longworth) an end to welfare cuts (Louise Mensch) saving the UK steel industry (Nigel Farage), increased science funding (the Vote Leave campaign document) full access to the single market (Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan, Owen Paterson, the Vote Leave campaign) and even an end to Tory austerity (John Redwood).

If you're inclined to believe all of these pledges it might seem like Britian is about to immediately become the land of milk and honey as soon as we just take the simple step of quitting the EU. There is of course a major snag in this utopian scenario: All of these pledges add up to vastly more than the projected saving from the UK contribution to the EU.

When Brexit campaigners are confronted with the fact that they're making all kinds of impossible uncosted projections about what a post-EU British economy would be like, they openly admit that their speculations are just hot air, or "options" as Chris Grayling calls them.

The Brexit campaigners' excuse for coming up with absolutely nothing resembling an economic restructuring plan is the same as their excuse for making loads of completely uncosted statements about how much better everything would be outside of the EU. Their line to justify peddling ridiculous fantasy economics is that "we're not an alternative government, so we're not in a position to make any promises" as if that gives them carte blanche to make up whatever rosy scenarios they like in order to con people into voting for Brexit.

Even if we ignore the warnings that the uncertainty of a haphazard Brexit with no economic restructuring plan is highly likely to trigger financial market shocks and a serious recession; if we allow the Brexiter assumption that everything will be perfectly rosy and the projected savings from leaving the EU won't even be slightly offset by the economic chaos, they still clearly can't fund anything like all of their hot air speculations.

A key point is that the net UK contribution to the EU is around £8.5 billion per year, which seems like an awful lot until you consider it in perspective. The GDP of the UK economy was £1,809 billion in 2015. This means that the saving from quitting the EU would amount to just 0.47% of GDP. Even if this amount isn't immediately consumed by a likely post-Brexit economic crisis, does anyone honestly believe that it would be enough to pay for all of the Brexiter pledges detailed above?

Given their abject lack of a strategic plan for Brexit, their inability to pay for all of their pledges and their tendency to immediately backtrack when challenged, the 'kippers and the hard-right fringe of the Tory party look increasingly like the Simpsons character Montgomery Burns offering the public a "mystery box" in order to convince them to vote for Brexit. What's in the box, nobody knows for sure. But the Brexit campaign seem intent on promising everyone that it's going to be exactly what they want it to be, even if that's a multitude of different things to different people.

Perhaps one of the most important considerations when being offered a "mystery box" is who is doing the offering, and how much you trust them. How much do you trust a bunch of hard-right Thatcherites to keep their word that they're going to invest in socialist spending like funding the NHS or saving the steel industry for example?

In my view, given the people who are offering it, the Brexit "mystery box" is actually highly likely to contain even more of the toxic hard-right economic dogma that successive UK governments have been pushing ever since 1979.

There is an awful lot of dissatisfaction in the UK, and a lot of it actually stems from the consequences of the hard-right neoliberal dogma we've been enduring since 1979. But the UKIP Tory Trojan Horse party and the extreme right-wing fringe of the Tory party are trying to convince the public that the main problem is the EU, not the consequences of their own beloved hard-right ideology. They're hoping to fool people into quitting the EU, which would then enable them to push their right-wing economic dogma even harder than they already have, create a gigantic bonfire with our rights and liberties, and turn the UK into the vast tax-haven economy that the likes of John Redwood have openly fantasised about in the past.

If the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, John Redwood, Chris Grayling, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Priti Patel, Neil "cash for questions" Hamilton or Michael Gove are offering you a "mystery box", you shouldn't be in the least bit surprised to find that it contains a very nasty surprise indeed.

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