One year on, is Brexit really as bad as we feared?

Spoiler Alert: Yes

A year ago today, Britons went to the polls to vote on whether to remain in or leave the EU with two very different sets of campaign promises ringing in their ears.

The Remain campaign had taken a supposedly safe approach, focusing on the economic disaster that would be unleashed by leaving the EU, promising voters that they would be personally worse off after Brexit and trusting that would overwhelm most people’s concerns about the EU and the direction in which Britain was headed.

The Leave campaign offered an altogether more optimistic vision of the future, promising Britain would ‘take back control’ of its laws and borders, would rapidly sign trade deals with major non-European economies and, of course, would have an extra £350m to invest in the NHS.

The problem with these promises is that they were false. While some Remain campaigners (looking at you, George Osborne) may have gone overboard with their portents of doom, that pales in comparison with the overarching dishonesty of the Leave campaign, which won on the back of lies sold to voters.

The year since the referendum has shown that, while Project Fear may not have resonated with the public, there was good reason to be afraid.

Economy

Shortly after midnight, results from Sunderland and Newcastle were reported and the pound began to plunge. It has never recovered, nor anywhere near. Sterling has depreciated by 15 per cent in the year since Britain went to the polls.

Graph via The Conversation 

This has impacted the economy in a number of ways, with serious impacts for ordinary people. While wages continue to stagnate, inflation is rising more quickly than expected creating a pay squeeze that is depressing consumption and reducing quality of life.

This will reverberate around the whole economy. In the months after the vote, Brexiteers made much of the fact that the economy hadn’t declined as sharply as expected. That was because consumer spending remained unexpectedly high. Ordinary people are now tightening their belts, and growth has slumped.

Theresa May’s decision to plough ahead with a hard Brexit — for which she has no mandate following the general election — will only drag the economy down further.

Immigration

In the days of the referendum, Britain watched in horror as hate crimes spiked. European citizens in Britain, and immigrants from the rest of the world, were faced with a new reality in which the worst elements of British society were emboldened by the referendum result.

Nor did immigrants get much comfort from the Tory government which, in the months after the referendum, embraced new levels of anti-immigrant vitriol.

At Tory conference in October, Amber Rudd proposed that companies be forced to keep a register of foreign workers to ‘name and shame’ those who weren’t hiring enough Brits. Jeremy Hunt announced a plan to drive hardworking foreign doctors out of the NHS. And Theresa May famously announced that ‘if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’.

Although the Leave campaign insisted that EU citizens already resident in Britain had no reason for concern, they have waited an entire year for any guarantee of their right to remain in the country. Last night, at long last, May made an offer that guarantees them the same rights and benefits as UK citizens.

But as it turns out, immigration is falling without help from the government as the UK becomes a less appealing place to work, both because of its weakened economy and its exclusionary attitude to foreign workers. In key sectors, arrivals from the EU have already declined.

For example, there has been a 96 per cent decline in the number of nurses arriving to work in the UK and, it has been reported today, the drop-off in seasonal workers has been so pronounced that British strawberries may see a 50 per cent price bump in the weeks ahead.

Politics

It’s difficult to recall the frenzied atmosphere that grasped the country in the days after the referendum. David Cameron resigned, most of the Labour shadow cabinet resigned, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson dive-bombed out of the Conservative leadership contest, soon followed by Andrea Leadsom.

We ended up with May, a supposedly safe pair of hands who has instead shown herself to be breathtakingly incompetent. Between them, May and her three Brexiteers (Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox) have drastically reduced Britain’s standing in Europe and the world, taking a hostile, arrogant approach to the early stages of the Brexit talks, just when they should have been most tactful and diplomatic.

Furthermore, while we might welcome the gains made by Labour and other progressive parties in the snap general election, the continuing chaos in the government is leaves Britain severely weakened in the eyes of its European neighbours, and leaves British people facing continued uncertainty about their livelihoods and their future.

No deal?

Most worryingly of all is the government’s continued belief that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. This is blatantly untrue, and if Britain crashes over the cliff edge in 2019, the consequences will make the problems we’ve seen so far look life piffling inconveniences.

The last year may not have unfolded the way any of us expected, but any Brexiteers who say that it hasn’t been as bad as was predicted are lying (as is their wont). The crisis that emerged in the early hours of 24 June last year is still unfolding, and will continue to for many more years.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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