A New Year’s Miscellany of Failed Brexit Predictions

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A new Year’s review of prophecies that never came true. We’ve looked through some previous pieces on the subject (including our own), and added a few extras. Feel free to send us any egregious prophecies we may have missed!

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It would be impossible to get an acceptable trade deal.

– As we’ve argued before, the Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than naysayers thought – many of whom believed that the UK would be forced into accepting level playing field alignment and European Court of Justice (ECJ) oversight.  (The Northern Ireland Protocol, it must be said, is a rather less favourable deal.)

– Likewise with other nations like Japan, where the view of pundits was that the UK lacked the experienced negotiators to replicate existing trading arrangements.  In the event, the UK beat the EU to the punch over a deal with Australia.

– Membership talks with the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership continue, suggesting the UK market remains an attractive prospect.

Economic Ruin

– George Osborne famously predicted immediate recession and an emergency budget if Britons voted to leave.  Neither materialised.

– Faced with this non-event, Remain supporters suggest instead that the economy would have grown more if we had stayed in the EU.  These ‘doppelganger’ analyses, however, are entirely speculative: in truth, Brexit has probably made relatively little impact either way, and may even have been favourable.

– A cratering of exports to the EU largely failed to materialise.  In fact, exports to Europe have done better in recent months than those to other nations.

– Fishing was predicted to take a hit as a result of Brexit, though the record recent haul at Brixham suggests otherwise.
Mass unemployment was also predicted as an outcome of Brexit – particularly ironic now that shortages of labour are most criticised.  On which subject…

Mass shortages.

Petrol, food, lorry drivers, turkeys, abattoir workers, flower-pickers: shortages were predicted in all these sectors, and all blamed in various ways on Brexit.  While its fair to say that there have been supply constraints in some of these sectors, they’ve been shared by other advanced economies facing pandemic supply constraints and associated inflation, like US shortages of truck drivers.

Brexit, like Scrooge, would steal Christmas with said shortages.

‘Border Chaos’ after the imposition of checks.

– In January 2021 it was widely reported that exports to the EU ‘fell by 68%’ compared to the previous year.  As we suggested at the time, this exaggeration bordered on the absurd.

– Outlets also warned that similar problems would occur with imports from the EU, which became subject to checks this January.  We’ve yet to see official data on the numbers, but so far things appear to be steady.

The collapse of The City.

Ernest & Young projected that 235,000 jobs would move to Europe as a result of Brexit.  In reality, that figure is more like 7,400.

– Amsterdam briefly took the (largely meaningless) honour of handling the largest value of shares traded in Europe, until London recovered it in July.

Numbers of London-based initial public offerings soared this year, belying suggestions that firms would abandon London due a lack of EU access, and leading some City chiefs to suggest Brexit had been ‘quite positive’ for British finance.

Threats to peace and the decline of the West.

– Strange as it may seen, both Donald Tusk and David Cameron saw Brexit as a potential threat to regional security. In Mr Tusk’s defence, the jury is still out on this one, but more because of bad faith on the EU side – France has been pretty belligerent over trawlers’ permits.

British foreign policy irrelevance.

– One of the most significant pro-EU arguments was essentially declinist: the UK needed the EU to maintain foreign policy clout, and would be ignored in a world of large self-interested blocs.

– Practically, this argument ignored the fact that the EU has very little foreign policy unity, and little by way of defence and intelligence capacity.  Gaining more would mean compromising national autonomy – and Britain’s links with non-EU countries.

– Concretely, the US-UK-Australia defence pact and hosting of COP-26 suggests British influence has not suffered unduly.

The end of the Union.

– Scottish Independence: widely predicted as a possible Brexit consequence, support for separation briefly achieved a polling majority in late 2020 which it held with interruptions until April 2021.

– Since then, however, support for the UK has held a steady lead – and despite the Nationalists’ electoral dominance, a majority of Scots don’t want another referendum soon.

– Practically, as Robert Tombs has argued, leaving the EU makes Scottish independence harder.  An independent Scotland would need to apply to rejoin and face trade barriers with its most significant trade partner.

– Matters are more serious in Northern Ireland.  Ironically, before Brexit it was the concerns of Sinn Fein that were privileged by negotiators.  In the event, Unionist discontent is now a more dangerous issue – and will be amplified if the present government vacillates on the role of the ECJ or continues to maintain the Protocol’s onerous import requirements.


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