A year ago the British people made a brave and historic decision to leave the EU. That was despite a torrent of lurid warnings from across the British establishment. A year on, we can already see how wide of the mark many of the establishment’s claims are proving.
We haven’t left yet, of course. That means that Brexiteer celebrations have been muted. It also means that Remoaner doom-mongering is still in full gear.
Eurocrats may be intransigent in negotiations and seek to “punish” us by denying a free trade deal. As we are net importers from the EU they would be punishing continental businesses rather more. Their mentality shows just what an abusive relationship we have been trapped in. It is unlikely that the EU would engage in such an act of self-harm – but certainly possible.
Then there is the concern that the UK Government, weakened by the General Election result, would agree a bad deal. One where we were constrained from negotiating new trade deals with the rest of the world, where we still handed over billions to the EU, still did not control our borders and still had laws imposed on us. In other words, where Brexit did not mean Brexit. Unlikely – but until we know for
sure then too much whooping from those who voted Leave would have a complacent feel.
However, the anniversary does allow us to take on some of the dire predictions from the Remain campaign before the vote and subsequently. One claim was that, as the disastrous consequences of their decision became apparent, huge numbers of those ignorant old working class folk who had the audacity to vote Leave would be overcome with regret.
But the latest poll I can see – one by Panelbase for the Sunday Times that appeared last weekend – said that if there was another referendum we would vote the same way by the same margin – Leave 52 per cent, Remain 48 per cent. This was after a General Election campaign where little was said of the opportunities that Brexit would bring. The Conservative campaign stressed how difficult the negotiations would prove.
Then, of course, we had the predictions that the “shock” of voting to Leave would plunge us into recession. Then-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne declared that such a decision “would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy” which would “lead to an increase in unemployment of around 500,000” within two years.
A year on, unemployment is 1.54 million according to figures Office for National Statistics. The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.6 per cent – its lowest in 42 years. In May last year – when Osborne issued his warning – there were 1.67 million unemployed according to the ONS which was 5.0 per cent.
In fairness to Osborne he was not alone. A poll of economists by Reuters predicted Britain was likelier than not to fall into recession within a year. Yet the economy continues to grow.
Then there was all the talk about a stock market crash. On June 23 last year, the day of the EU referendum, the FTSE 100 closing price was 6,338. It is now 7,433. At first we were told that the FTSE 100 didn’t count as it reflected big international companies. The FTSE 250 was supposedly a better measure. All right then. The FTSE 250 closed at 17,333 on June 23 last year. Today it is on 19,518.
Then we had warnings of a housing crash. I say “warnings”, but some of those who are struggling to get on the property ladder would have been rather pleased by the idea of a fall in house prices.
Osborne declared: “In the financial markets tougher conditions would lead to higher mortgage costs for families. House prices would be hit by 10 per cent and as much as 18 per cent. So that is what it means to vote to leave the EU.” Again these were predictions as to what would happen within two years of the vote – another dodgy dossier from Project Fear was on offer with the truly apocalyptic longer-term stuff for after we had left.
A year later house prices are higher. According to the latest figure from HM Land Registry the average house price in the UK is £220,094, and the index stands at 115.43. Property prices have risen by 1.6 per cent compared to the previous month, and risen by 5.6% compared to the previous year. So far as interest rates are concerned the Bank of England cut the base rate from 0.5 per cent to 0.25 per cent.
We all make mistakes. Economists constantly get their forecasts wrong. But it was pretty unappealing that the Project Fear merchants were so arrogant and emphatic. It felt like an exercise in bullying us to vote to stay. For many there were divisions among friends and families, among work colleagues and within political parties.
A year on, the subject is still sensitive. Brexiteers who avoid triumphalism reflects
a very British concern for good manners. But wouldn’t a mood of peace and reconciliation be helped if the Remain supporters not only accepted the result but also accepted that much of what they claimed during the campaign has already been proved wrong.