The Brexit papers are about the economy, stupid, and that’s why the Government doesn’t want us to see them


“It’s the economy, stupid.”

Some of the politicians on this side of the Atlantic seem to have forgotten about how devastatingly effective that line was when used by Bill Clinton’s campaign in its attack on the first President George Bush. 

It played an important role in securing the election of the first Democrat to the White House in 12 years and bringing the curtain down on the Reagan/Bush era. 

We Brits, by contrast, apparently don’t care about money. We just want the immigrants out. At least that’s what some on the right would have you believe. 

Take Nick Boles, who has been making waves of late as a result of his rather pointed attacks on Theresa May. He’s regarded as a Tory with a brain, which makes him interesting to those of us who like wildlife programmes about rare species. 

In response to the leak of a devastating Government assessment of Britain’s economic prospects outside of the EU, Boles penned a number of tweets aimed at both Leavers and Remainers. 

This is how his thread started: “One of the most tiresome things in politics is when everyone pretends to be outraged by the revelation of something they knew all along.”

He then went on to say that “Leavers need to understand that businesses need time to adjust to a new trading relationship and keep their eyes on the long term prize”. True, but Boles must realise that many, if not most, of the Leavers on the Tory side are basically bonkers; reckless fundamentalists who think that “compromise” is a synonym of “betrayal”. 

We Remainers, by contrast, “need to understand that there’s more to life than GDP and most people voted with their eyes open about the economic impact”. 

That is where Boles, a Remain supporter during the referendum campaign, is talking rot. 

Nonetheless, it’s worth discussing because he is speaking to a theory that is proving quite popular, one that holds that the British people couldn’t care less about the economy. 

Now, it is not untrue that some Leavers understood that GDP would take a hit, and felt it was worth it nonetheless. You can even have a civilised conversation with some of them. They’re not all bonkers, and they’re not all racists. These people are mostly not on Twitter. 

But plenty did not. It was with them in mind that the Leave campaign consistently claimed that Britain would do just fine outside the EU, better, in fact, through being freed from “Brussels red tape” and with the ability to secure our own trade deals. 

One of its key messages was the appalling falsehood propagated about the money that would be made available to the NHS: £350m a week. 

A lot of voters bought into that. Would they have done so had they known that not only was the claim false, but also that the economy’s post-Brexit struggles will inevitably mean a lot less money being made available for the much loved institution? It is already feeling the effects of a stuttering economy and a lack of cash. Witness all those cancelled operations. 

It’s the economy… 

The Government understands that. It explains why Brexit minister Steve Baker said in the House of Commons that it wouldn’t release the analysis because economic forecasts are “always wrong”. Not that they don’t matter, just that they are “wrong” with the implication that Britain and its GDP will do just fine. 

If Leave voters all had their eyes open and didn’t care about the economy, then why not simply publish and say yes, we will take a hit, but we’ll keep the immigrants out, take back control and have you seen how lovely those blue passports look? They must be worth the £85 they’ll cost after we’ve slapped £12.50 on to the cost. 

But they didn’t. And, well, it’s the economy… 

No, GDP isn’t everything. But it matters an awful lot. An awful lot. If you don’t see that you are either stupid, which Boles is not, or disingenuous and perhaps guilty of internalising the aggressive rhetoric and threatening tone of the Brexiteers, as some have unfortunately done.

The grim Brexit economic assessment is significant because it was penned by neutral civil servants, who nonetheless must have felt the pressure to conform to the Government’s stated position, which amounts to claiming that we’ll do wonderfully well thanks to Theresa May’s “deep and special” partnership including a bespoke trade deal that the EU doesn’t appear minded to give her. 

It is true that economic forecasts have to be treated with a degree of scepticism. They’re a bit like long-term weather forecasts in that they can be influenced by a huge range of factors, some of which aren’t evident when they are constructed. 

But this post-referendum analysis of the outlook represents the UK Government’s best guess based on the data it has for the various Brexit scenarios. None of them are good. 

The reason the May Government, and particularly its Brexiteer contingent, is so sensitive about that, so reluctant to admit to it, is because, and you know what’s coming next: it’s the economy… 

We could put Boles’ theory to the test through a second referendum in which the Leave campaign is honest and admits that the economy is going to suffer, but asks people to vote for the other stuff.

The odds against that happening are still very long, and why? It’s because Theresa May and her Brexit party aren’t quite that… stupid.