KINSELLA: Not-so-Britain is getting worse and worse

The cost of Brexit to England’s Conservatives should serve as a lesson for Conservatives in North America

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LONDON – Oh dear old boy.

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Is Britain really still Britain?

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Depends on how you define “great” of course. Sure: Parliament is still in session (more on that in a moment). The tube is still running. Big Ben is still ticking. But something is definitely wrong.

A Canadian economist who studied economics at Harvard and got a place at the London School of Economics shakes his head.

He says: “Since Brexit, UK GDP has steadily fallen and the trade deficit has risen. Rising unemployment too as trade-related jobs disappear.”

He continues: “The Paris Stock Exchange – the Stock Exchange – is now valued higher than the UK Stock Exchange for the first time. The British pound is losing value amidst all the political and economic uncertainties – and has fallen below the US dollar. Brexit was tantamount to economic madness.”

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“Brexit f—– us up,” agrees an old friend, an author who was born in Canada but has lived in London for years. “Everyone knows. But nobody knows how to fix the mess.”

Evidence of this was easy to find on the front pages of the British press on Friday morning. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government issued what it called the “national autumn declaration” in London on Thursday, and a mess was seen everywhere.

On the left’s front page, the Guardian headlined: ‘Bad to Worse.’ The Daily Mirror was similarly unenthusiastic – its front page screamed ‘CARNAGE’ and ‘Millions To Feel Pain After Tory Hell Budget’.

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On the right, coverage was superficially better – The Daily Express dubbed the budget statement “VICTORY”. But then, not far below that headline, the newspaper added: “Britain faces its highest tax burden since the Second World War.”

There’s a bit of irony here, as The Daily Express has backed the British Conservatives in every single election since the Second World War (only once did he say something nice about the Labor Party in 2001 when Tony Blair was still around and nobody here thinks Blair was Socialist).

So when even the UK Tories’ biggest booster acknowledges that important things are bad and getting worse, you know they probably are. How did the once-great Britain get here?

Well, Brexit. Jeremy Hunt is the author of the Autumn Declaration – we would call him Treasury Secretary but in Westminster he is called Chancellor of the Exchequer – and not long ago he even spoke out strongly against Brexit.

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Britain’s exit from the European Union would be catastrophic, Hunt once said, and would cause “an economic shock”. In the historic 2016 referendum, Hunt campaigned to remain in the EU.

Today he doesn’t talk about it that much anymore. It cost him a run at the Tory leadership – he finished a distant second to Brexiteer Boris Johnson – and he now probably doesn’t want to lose the prestige that comes with being Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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But still. Hunt would be an idiot, a fool, if he didn’t know what Brexit did. The carnage, as The Daily Mirror called it.

A taste:

– Exports of goods to the European Union fell by 40% between December 2020 and January 2021, and imports by almost 30%. The exclusion of migrant workers led to massive labor shortages that widened the trade gap.

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– As mentioned above, GDP (gross domestic product) was 5.2% lower and investment 14% lower than it would have been if the UK had stayed in the EU. In fact, the UK economy has shrunk and has not recovered.

– There was also a cost for individuals: about 2,000 Canadian dollars for each Briton. And the Budget Overseer in Britain’s Parliament says the worst is yet to come.

All of this is why Hunt’s fall budget is widely seen as making a bad situation worse. It hit the British with higher taxes, wiped out all the growth of the last decade and sent the British economy a powerful nudge into recession. People’s standard of living will not return to what it was years ago, said the Independent Household Responsibility Agency.

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Politically, the cost of Brexit for England’s Conservatives is easy to estimate. There have literally been four different Prime Ministers since Brexit. That doesn’t exactly speak for stability.

Here’s a lesson for North American conservatives. Donald Trump was pro-Brexit, Joe Biden was not. Biden won.

Successful conservative leaders in the Canadian federal government have been cautious. Stephen Harper, who won the election, said Canada must “remain neutral” on Brexit. And he was.

However, Andrew Scheer tweeted that Brexit was “cool”, quote unquoted, and subsequently lost to Justin Trudeau. Erin O’Toole hired the UK advisers pushing for Brexit. He also lost his only election.

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Pierre Poilievre, on the other hand, is a little more quirky. While his “take back control” rhetoric from the Conservative Party leadership race is strikingly similar to the pro-Brexit campaign slogan, his initial enthusiasm for the exit seems to have evaporated entirely. These days he’s pretty quiet on the subject.

Meanwhile, poor Jeremy Hunt will be tied to the sinking ship of Brexit, whether he likes it or not. And the widespread opinion – among pundits and the media alike – is that he has made things measurably worse.

The last rites are now performed metaphorically on his government.

So if Hunt hadn’t picked up the newspapers in once-great Britain on Friday morning, nobody would have blamed him. There’s only so much bad news to take, old boy.

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