Ian McConnell: Bank of England Governor Mark Carney irks Brexiters as trade efforts conjure images of Captain Cook

IT is nigh on impossible not to get increasingly sick and tired of hearing people declare we just have to make the best of Brexit. Particularly so given that, even before we reach the exit, the vote has already made people much worse off.

There seems to be some Great British, stiff-upper-lip kind of view that everyone, regardless of how they voted in the 2016 referendum, somehow has a responsibility to help this shambolic UK Government minimise the damage, but only by doing anything other than the sensible things. For those who have not worked it out yet, the most sensible thing would be to scrap Brexit. The next-best thing would be to preserve as much of what the European Union gives us as is humanly possible.

The damage already done by the Brexit vote to household finances was underlined this week by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

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Mr Carney, who cited “Brexit effects”, told MPs on the Treasury Committee on Tuesday: “Real household incomes are about £900 per household lower than we forecast in May of 2016, which is a lot of money.”

May 2016 was, of course, the month before the Brexit vote. It was also a month in which annual UK consumer prices index inflation was just 0.3 per cent. Sterling’s post-Brexit-vote weakness saw annual CPI inflation surge to more than 3%. It has eased a little since but, at 2.4% in April, remains well above the 2% target set for the Bank of England by the Treasury.

It is surely difficult to argue with

the point made by Mr Carney about £900-a-year being “a lot of money”.

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And the GMB trade union was quick to put this in context for any politicians in the Conservative Cabinet who might be too far from the daily reality of most people’s lives to grasp its importance.

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “Being £900 worse off might not seem a lot to Tory Cabinet ministers

but for many people it pays for their family’s summer holiday.”

Of course, the arch-Brexiters in the Conservative ranks were not happy with Mr Carney’s latest contribution, even though his £900 figure is based on hard economic data.

Making what appeared to be a truly remarkable statement, during a visit to Argentina, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson declared: “I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given a definitive answer on this matter, which is that it is not the case that Brexit has damaged the interests of

this country.”

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If such a “definitive answer” has been given by Philip Hammond, this will surely be news to many. Maybe

Mr Johnson knows something the rest of us do not? Or is interpreting things in a different way to some others?

Conservative MP and Brexit enthusiast Jacob Rees-Mogg meanwhile declared Mr Carney was “crying wolf”.

Here is a question for Mr Rees-Mogg: was the Office for National Statistics crying wolf when it reported the sorry fact the UK economy had grown by just 0.1% quarter-on-quarter in the opening three months of the year?

And is he going to argue with the official data showing a protracted

post-Brexit-vote fall in real earnings for households in Great Britain?

The damage of Brexit is clear for anyone to see in the official economic figures and a welter of surveys. For anyone who wants to see it, that is. Or, if Mr Rees-Mogg prefers a canine analogy, the vote has brought the wolf closer to the door of many households.

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It is difficult to overstate the frustration felt when hearing some people’s sheer determination to proceed with Brexit, regardless of the economic damage or the financial cost to themselves and others.

BBC’s Question Time regularly offers windows on this determination.

Some fans of Brexit seem fearful that their seeming dream of leaving the EU is somehow going to be shattered, and argue resolutely that the will of the people must be followed. Bizarrely, you even hear some people who voted “Remain” argue the referendum result must be followed through regardless of the damage, as if this is all about being good sports and the key issue of reduced living standards now and over decades to come is less important.

However, given all the disinformation swirling during the Brexit campaign, who knows what the will of the people actually is?

The Conservative Government must not be allowed to railroad through whatever deal it comes up with (if it manages to reach an agreement at all).

The damage being done already by the move to Brexit is plain. Yet the UK Government is determined to follow the move through, while ruling out least-bad options such as staying in the single market. Surely though, if the inevitable reality of Brexit has become clearer to more people in the wake of the vote, the matter can be reconsidered, in a democratic way.

There should be a free vote in Parliament on any Brexit deal, and MPs must have the resolve to vote for the good of the country and its people, looking to their conscience. A second referendum is an option, although having the first one was a huge mistake.

People could be forgiven for still not realising the extent of the mistake, given the irrepressible demeanour of Mr Johnson, who continues to travel the world seeking free trade agreements with myriad countries. The Brexiters in the Conservative Government seem willing to speak excitedly and effusively to just about any country on trade, as long as it is not in the EU.

Concrete results from these efforts, which are perhaps reminiscent of Captain Cook’s globe-trotting although less effective, remain entirely elusive, certainly to the naked eye. But that is not denting the Brexiters’ confidence.

Mr Johnson, seemingly harbouring no doubt or fear about abandoning the proven huge benefits of the EU single market for perceived advantages which remain invisible nearly two years after the Brexit vote, told news agency Bloomberg: “The Prime Minister [Theresa May] is the custodian of the [Brexit] plan, which is to come out of the customs union, out of the single market and to get on with it…with all convenient speed.”

Mr Carney told MPs the UK economy was now up to 2% smaller than would have been expected at this stage before the EU referendum, as he flagged various Brexit effects. Although he drew criticism from Tory Brexiters, Mr Carney was not taking any political stance on Brexit or giving a view on what should happen next. Rather, he was stating the economic facts. If Brexiters do not want to hear the facts, that is their problem, not Mr Carney’s.

Figures this week form Germany’s Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) showed, with Brexit looming, the number of British people who became German citizens was up by 162% last year. Nearly 7,500 British citizens acquired German citizenship in 2017. This followed a 361% rise in 2016, bringing the total for the two years to around 10,400. This is more than double the number of British people who became German citizens in the 15 years from 2000.

“A link to Brexit is obvious,” said Destatis. Surely the Brexiters will not argue Destatis is also “crying wolf”?

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