KINSELLA: Not if Britain goes from bad to worse

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The cost of Brexit for English Tories should serve as a lesson to North American Tories

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LONDON – Oh, man.

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Is Britain really Britain?

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It depends on how one defines “awesome”, of course. Of course: Parliament is still sitting (more on that shortly). The Tube still works. Big Ben is still spinning. But something is definitely wrong.

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

He says: “There has been a steady decline in UK GDP – and a growing trade deficit – since Brexit. Rising unemployment too, as trade-related jobs disappear.

He continues: “The Paris stock exchange — the Bourse — is now for the first time valued at more than the British stock exchange. The Pound is losing value due to all the political and economic uncertainty – and has lost value below the US Dollar. Brexit was tantamount to economic madness.

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“Brexit is pissing us off,” agrees an old friend, a Canadian-born author who has lived in London for years. “Everybody knows it. But nobody knows how to fix the mess.

Proof of this was easily found on the front pages of the British press on Friday morning. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government issued the so-called “national autumn statement” in London on Thursday, and a mess was visible everywhere.

On the left, the headline of the front page of the Guardian was: “From Bad to Worse”. The Daily Mirror was equally unenthusiastic – its front page screamed ‘CARNAGE’ and ‘Millions in pain after Tory budget hell’.

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

There’s a bit of irony there, because the Daily Express has backed Britain’s Conservatives in every election since World War II (only once saying something nice about Labor in 2001, when Tony Blair was still there, and no one here thinks Blair was a socialist).

So when even the biggest recall of Britain’s Tories recognizes that important things are going wrong and getting worse, you know they probably are. So how did old Britain get here?

Well, Brexit. Jeremy Hunt is the author of the autumn statement – we would call him the finance minister, but in Westminster he is called the Chancellor of the Exchequer – and, not so long ago, he was is even fiercely opposed to Brexit.

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Britain’s exit from the European Union would be a disaster, Hunt said, and would cause “an economic shock”. In the landmark 2016 referendum, Hunt campaigned to stay in the EU.

Today, he doesn’t talk about it much anymore. It cost him a run for the Tory leadership – he came in far behind pro-Brexit Boris Johnson – and he probably doesn’t want to lose the prestige that comes with being Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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But stay. Hunt would be a moron, a fool, if he didn’t know what Brexit has done. Carnage, as the Daily Mirror called it.

A direct debit:

– Exports of goods to the European Union fell by 40% between December 2020 and January 2021, and imports fell by almost 30%. The ban on migrant workers has led to a massive labor shortage, which has widened the trade gap.

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– As noted, GDP (gross domestic product) was 5.2% lower and investment 14% lower than it would have been had the UK remained in the EU. Indeed, the British economy contracted and did not rebound.

– There was also a cost for individuals: around C$2,000 for every Briton. And the UK Parliament’s budget watcher says the worst is yet to come.

That’s why Hunt’s Fall’s budget is widely seen as making a bad situation worse. It hit Britons with higher taxes, wiped out any growth of the past decade and gave Britain’s economy a hard push into recession. People’s living standards will not return to where they have been for years, the Independent Office for Budget Accountability has said.

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Politically, the cost of Brexit for English Tories is easy to measure. There have literally been four different prime ministers since Brexit was passed. This doesn’t exactly suggest stability.

For North American conservatives, there is a lesson here. Donald Trump was in favor of Brexit, Joe Biden was not. Biden won.

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

Andrew Scheer, however, tweeted that Brexit was “cool”, in quotes, and then lost to Justin Trudeau. Erin O’Toole hired the British consultants who lobbied for Brexit. He also lost his one and only election.

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Pierre Poilievre, meanwhile, is a little more suspicious. While his rhetoric of “taking back control” of the Conservative Party leadership race is strikingly similar to the slogan of the pro-Brexit campaign, his initial enthusiasm for the withdrawal seems to have completely disappeared. He’s pretty quiet on the subject these days.

Poor Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, is attached to the sinking ship that is Brexit, whether he likes it or not. And the widespread opinion – among pundits and the media – is that he has made matters considerably worse.

The last rites are now performed, metaphorically, upon his government.

So if Hunt hadn’t read the newspapers in old Britain on Friday morning, no one would have blamed him. There’s only so much bad news you can digest, man.

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