A rejoinder to the rejoiners

The remainer hullabaloo about the costs of Brexit has been wrong


This article is taken from the June 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

In the years before the Brexit referendum in June 2016 the combined intellectual might of the BBC, the Financial Times, the Economist and the Guardian warned repeatedly that leaving the European Union would result in large economic damage to the United Kingdom. In the years since June 2016 the same intellectual powerhouses have asserted — again repeatedly — that leaving the EU has indeed resulted in large economic damage. 

Discussion of Brexit in these terms has become almost a trope of this section of the media establishment, along with recurrent appeals for inclusion, diversity and Net Zero. Simon Kuper in a FT column on 22 April claimed that “Brexiteers now hate to talk about Brexit”. His allegation was that they ought to feel particularly “guilty” about the “grubby economics” of Brexit and the “poverty” it had caused. 

As a once prominent member of UKIP, I must disagree. Far from hating to talk about Brexit, I welcome opportunities to review what has happened and consider what lies ahead. However, my first problem is finding the right word for the other side. They usually refer to themselves as remainers or europhiles or something like that. They avoid the word “rejoiners”. One wonders why. 

Growth in the UK and the long-standing EU member states has been much the same since the Brexit referendum

Consider the hypothesis that the next Labour government decides to apply for resumed EU membership in, say, 2027. It would need to negotiate with the European Commission on the tens of billions that would be the entry fee, the hundreds of billions that would become the continuing and never-ending membership costs, the UK’s adoption of the euro (which is compulsory for new members), the EU’s renewed control of our borders, the UK’s necessary acceptance of a single European labour market, the return of regional policy to Brussels, the proportion of fish in our territorial waters that belong to other European nations, the future absorption of the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force into EU defence forces, and the ultimate constitutional status of Northern Ireland. 

This is of course just an hypothesis. In the real world even as fervent a pre-2016 remainer as Keir Starmer knows that he would be mad to attempt any such negotiations. A majority of the journalists at the BBC, the FT and so on may be rejoiners in some loose and theoretical sense, but in serious practical politics the issue is dead. The UK has left the EU, and — just as Ireland broke away from the UK and Singapore from Malaysia — it will stay out.

What about those grubby economic facts? My hope was that outside the EU the UK might resume the low-tax, light-regulation, pro-business, pro-free-market agenda of the economically successful Conservative government of 1979 to 1997. Instead, since 2016 we have had to suffer year after year of tax increases and anti-business regulation, almost as if we had stayed in the EU. 

Indeed, the UK’s policies have been in many respects like those in other European nations subject to the blandishments of the woke media establishment. Has the UK really become much poorer because of Brexit? Let us check the key numbers, brought together in the accompanying table. They are taken from a database prepared by the International Monetary Fund, an organisation almost as unsympathetic to Brexit as the European Commission. The message is that the UK has not only had the same sort of government and economic policies as the rest of Europe, but also similar output growth. 

Cumulatively, over the seven years from the end of 2015, output in the Eurozone went up about 1 per cent more than in the UK, a gap hardly greater than the margin of error in preparing the figures. The EU as a whole was further ahead of the UK, but much of this was due to robust catch-up growth in such formerly low-income communist nations as Poland and Romania. 

The main point is clear: growth in the UK and the long-standing EU member states has been much the same since the Brexit referendum. The remainer hullabaloo about the costs of Brexit has been wrong. Moreover, we are no longer liable for the net contribution — typically of between ½ and ¾ per cent of GDP — which was our previous annual membership fee. 

A fair summary is that the recovery of political sovereignty has not had an economic cost at all. Whether future policies are pro-growth rather than pro-woke is to be decided by British voters. They will be free to make that choice in their own way in their own nation, and will not be told the policies they must pursue by bureaucrats in a foreign land.

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