Ian McConnell: Man in Lego boat without paddle sums up Brexit fiasco frustration

A LEGO man in a boat on a brown surface, with the paddle lying out of reach, cartoon character Wile E Coyote falling off a cliff, assorted things on fire, and a headless chicken all made for an eye-catching pictorial Twitter thread this week. The thread also included pictures of people sawing off the high tree branches on which they sat and shooting themselves in the feet.

You’ll probably have guessed by now that the topic was the Brexit vote. The pictures were posted in response to a request from law and policy commentator David Allen Green for suggestions about a cover for a book he has been commissioned to write on Brexit, by Oxford University Press.

The economic indicators showing the very damaging impact the Brexit vote has already had on the UK economy keep on coming. And economic experts continue, with very good reason, to warn of the huge implications of leaving the EU for the UK’s prospects.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has this week declared that maintaining membership of the single market as part of the European Economic Area would potentially, if it could be achieved, be worth a four per cent addition to UK gross domestic product relative to World Trade Organisation terms.

It notes in a report this equates to an addition to GDP of nearly two years of trend UK economic growth and, flagging the importance of single market membership to millions of people, it adds: “This would, on average, mean higher living standards and likely be distributed across income levels.”

The IFS notes that, if the UK were able to join the EEA, it would enjoy “near-full membership” of the EU but would “likely be obliged to accept EU regulations and free movement of people and make a budgetary contribution”.

It adds: “Obtaining membership of the single market without meeting these conditions would be unprecedented.”

The IFS is right to highlight the reality of this situation, which seems so lost on many Brexiters who, for some unfathomable reason, think they will be negotiating with our long-suffering EU partners from a position of strength.

And the IFS’s point underlines again the huge potential for strife among the Conservatives, given the grave economic implications of losing membership of the single market on the one hand and people like MP John Redwood seemingly falling over themselves to ensure “the full Brexit” happens as soon as possible.

Free movement of people clearly remains a bone of contention for many Brexiters. In contrast, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has published a survey this week showing employers in three sectors employing large numbers of EU migrants – hospitality, food and drink, and construction – believe the Leave result is bad for business. The NIESR notes these employers, which were unprepared for the Brexit vote on June 23, expressed sentiments of “shock”, “horror” and even devastation.

Many Brexiters still appear to be in complete denial on the economic front. They seem determined to try to pin the blame for the inevitable economic damage from the Brexit vote on Remain supporters, or even Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, for somehow talking down Mighty Blighty.

Just because this line of thought is entirely ridiculous does not mean we should not expect to continue to hear it, like a broken record, from those who retain the bizarre belief Brexit will somehow be good for the UK economy.

The IFS sets out the benefits of single market membership, advantages with which Scottish exporters to the EU will be only too familiar, even if the Brexiters are not.

It says: “The single market eliminates tariffs – border taxes -– and customs checks and, importantly, reduces non-tariff barriers, which are particularly important for services trade. Membership of the single market reduces “non-tariff” barriers in a way that no existing trade deal, customs union or free trade area does.”

Non-tariff measures include licensing and other regulatory barriers to trade.

The IFS warns that any new trade agreements are “unlikely to substitute fully for EU trade”.

The Scottish Government this week announced capital spending on projects to support and create employment would be accelerated, starting with an additional £100 million of funding this financial year, in an attempt to help the economy after the Brexit vote. The capital funding will be used to accelerate delivery of health and other infrastructure projects.

This is a commendable response. It also answers the questions posed by some, among them people opposed to a second independence referendum, about what the Scottish Government is doing in the wake of the Brexit vote to try to help the economy within the current constitutional set-up.

Strathclyde University’s Fraser of Allander Institute notes the Scottish Government’s £100m scheme is small in the context of the Brexit economic shock.

However, the Scottish Government can only do what is within its power to address the problems created by the UK electorate’s Brexit vote, which was at odds with the wishes of the majority of people in Scotland. As Fraser of Allander says, the onus lies with the UK Government to provide fiscal stimulus to mitigate the impact of the Brexit vote.

The replies on Twitter to Mr Green may have offered a welcome distraction from the grim economic reality after the Brexit vote. However, the pictures also illustrated well the sheer economic stupidity of leaving the EU.

And they underlined the undiminished annoyance and frustration of Remain voters. These emotions are more than justified, given the seeming dearth of ideas in the Conservative Government, among Leave and Remain campaigners alike, about just where we go from here.

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