By Lord Daniel Hannan.

Here are a couple of things you won’t be reading in the media.

U.K. inflation, already well below the European Union’s level, fell again last month. Payroll jobs are up 1.8 million in the last two years, and median monthly earnings are up 14% over the same period. Foreign direct investment is higher than in any EU country, and unemployment is at its lowest level since records began.

That’s not to say that everything is perfect — far from it. Britain is suffering, not from Long COVID, but from Long Lockdown. Around 600,000 people have failed to come back to work, either taking early retirement or claiming health issues. Of those who have come back, many, including most of the civil service, insist on working from home.

Still, Britain is not doing badly by international standards. This point needs to be made because of the extraordinary consensus that has formed overseas that the country has somehow been ruined by Brexit.

Rather than fill the rest of this column with statistics, let me give you the bottom line. Whether you count from the date of the referendum (June 23, 2016) or from the date Brexit took effect (Jan. 31, 2020), GDP growth, at purchasing power parity, has been higher in the United Kingdom than in the EU. And in both 2021 and 2022, Britain was the fastest-growing economy in the G-7.

“In both 2021 and 2022, Britain was the fastest-growing economy in the G-7.”

Now you might argue that, but for Brexit, growth would have been even faster. Fine. You might argue that the government has made mistakes, being too generous with its furlough scheme and too slow to deregulate. Again, that’s fine. But that, by and large, is not what the headlines say. They claim that Brexit has been “miserable” (New York Times), that it represents the “worst case scenario” (Washington Post), and that it has “cracked Britain’s economic foundations” (CNN).

Why the extreme language? Setting aside the New York Times’s jihad against Britain, I think these headlines mainly reflect London media commentary.

Many British newspapers and almost all broadcasters are run by people who voted to stay in the EU. They did not see the 2016 referendum as a vote for greater self-rule or as a readjustment of Britain’s trade patterns. Rather, they saw it as a full-on Trumpian rejection of the decent, progressive, internationalist values they had thought their countrymen shared. They have been determined ever since to discredit the result.

“Many British newspapers and almost all broadcasters are run by people who voted to stay in the EU.”

Never mind the Ukraine war, the lockdown, or the global downturn. Any factory closure, any exchange rate decline, and any negative business survey must be “because of Brexit.” Needless to say, stories suggesting the opposite (investment continues to rise, the pound has recovered most of its value since the summer, and the stock exchange is high) are ignored. Because the most Europhile organs in the U.K. are the ones that are the most widely followed overseas — above all, the BBC, the Economist, and the Financial Times — this position tends to be exaggerated in other countries’ media.

The extraordinary thing is that three years after leaving, and fully 6 1/2 years after the original vote, none of this is dying down. Remainers continue to see every issue through the prism of Brexit. Even developments as uncontroversial as the U.K.’s recent trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, kindred countries with similar standards to Britain’s, are opposed by those who cannot bear to see any good come from Brexit. Columnists and politicians who would in any other context be champions of a liberal economic order suddenly start complaining about being “flooded” with “cheap food” and so on.

At first, such talk was a way of venting their disappointment. It was unattractive — denying good news in order to say, “I told you so,” is rarely popular — but it was harmless then. Now, though, they are beginning to lay the groundwork for rejoining. Obviously, that is a distant and difficult goal. Although polls suggest support for membership, they suggested the same thing in the run-up to the referendum. In any future vote, the status quo advantage would have flipped. In any case, it is hard to imagine a vengeful EU offering attractive terms.

But Britain’s frustrated Europhiles are thinking long-term. They hope that an incoming Labour government might enter the EU’s customs union, rendering void all the independent trade deals conducted in the meantime, and sign up to so many Brussels-led policies that eventual membership will look like a natural step.

In order to succeed, they need to convince the country that Brexit has been an unmitigated economic disaster. I get why they are doing it. But how disappointing to see foreign journalists falling for their nonsense.

This article was first published in the Washington Examiner on 30th January 2023. With kind permission to republish.


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