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The Boris bust gains momentum

The Boris bust gains momentum

The Boris bust gains momentum
June 29
15:11 2016


Advocates of voting Leave had not spent a second thinking what to do after victory

©Bloomberg

Welcome to Brexit Britain, land of the Boris bust. Six days after the EU referendum result the UK has no government, no opposition, no plan. Companies are relocating their headquarters, investment is on hold, deals are being pulled and sterling’s fall has squeezed household incomes just as they were recovering.

Advocates of voting Leave cannot say they were not warned. But instead of listening and preparing for victory, they spent the time before the vote dreaming up ever more lurid insults to throw at honourable officials, economists and the British citizens who thought it better for the economy to stay in the EU. Clearly hoping to lose narrowly, we now know they had not spent a second thinking what to do after victory.

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Chris Giles

In the void, the Boris bust gains momentum. Just as after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008, it is not the financial markets that create recessionary conditions, but the individual decisions of millions of households and companies.

Boris Johnson’s Vote Leave lieutenants blame their vanquished foes for the absence of a plan. It sounds like a joke, because it is a sick joke. Officials in government cannot plan what to do next until they have a policy to follow. That is how Britain works, Mr Johnson. Officials advise, politicians decide.

The man who hopes to head the government within weeks has not decided his policy for leaving the EU. He is even less prepared to enter Number 10 than Gordon Brown was. Of course, we all know why Mr Johnson has not stated what sort of Brexit he favours because any choice he makes will be a betrayal.

He could choose to retain membership of the European single market, keeping Britain a member of the European Economic Area while ditching its EU membership. That would betray those with legitimate concerns about immigration, and the xenophobes.

He could prioritise the strict control of movement of people. That would betray his beloved London and the young. Or he could dither and betray the whole country as it sinks into recession.

The time has passed when you can be all things to all people, Mr Johnson. To govern is to choose and your choice is who you betray.

People who believed Britain’s interests lay in continued EU membership should not help Mr Johnson in his hour of need. Judging by his conduct in the referendum campaign, if Remain supporters urge EEA membership as the best choice for the economy, they know Mr Johnson will seek to blame them for seeking to keep free movement against his inner desires.

Everything I have written I know to be true. Yet I am conflicted. There is only misery in a downturn and there is no doubt that the EEA option is best for the British economy outside the EU. So, should economists and Remain supporters line up behind the “Norway” option in the full knowledge that Mr Johnson will exploit their patriotism to save his bacon?

Or is it better to criticise the incompetence of the Leave campaign that wanted control but had no idea how to use it? The latter is a risky option but might produce a groundswell of popular regret for the referendum result.

As a columnist, I normally have a strong opinion if not always the right answer. But so bad is the situation in Britain today and so uncertain the economic outlook that I confess I simply do not know.

Help us out, Mr Johnson. Many of us economists are also experts and all of us despair at the state of Britain today. You need us. We will help formulate a plan. But first you have to choose. You might have been pro having cake and pro eating it, but this is the real world now, the land of the trade-off. You have to make the next move. For the sake of the country, stop dithering and decide.

chris.giles@ft.com

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