One year ago we found out that the British people had decided (narrowly) that they had had enough of experts, and one group of experts in particular: economists. Economists had warned that Brexit would harm the economy, and the Brexiteers laughed it off, claiming Brexit could give the UK lower immigration without any economic pain. Economists responded that reducing immigration would make access to public services worse not better, but everyone told us we were simply out of touch with the people.
When a few months after the referendum Brexiteers started claiming that the economists had been proved to be completely wrong, I decided to score this match between Brexiteers and Economists. Goals would come from actual events, not from unconditional forecasts. The first goal of this match had been scored by the Economists within seconds of the match starting: the collapse in sterling would make nearly all British citizens poorer. The second arrived shortly afterwards, as the Bank decided to cut rates and restart QE to offset the negative impact of Brexit.
The Brexiteer side later claimed that this second goal shouldn’t count, because the economy did not collapse in the second half of 2016. But the main reason that happened was because consumers dipped into their savings, something that was not sustainable. The Bank did not reverse its decision. Forecasts went up and down, but this match is based on events, not forecasts.
The next goal was the election of Donald Trump. At first Brexiteers claimed it was a goal for their side, as Trump had been in favour of Brexit. But the reality soon dawned that Trump, like Brexiteers, lied all the time: he had no intention of making any trade deals with the UK before doing one with the EU first (as Obama had said, we would be way down the list). In addition a trade deal with Trump began to look like something it might be better not to have. That blew apart Brexiteers claims that they could quickly get new trade deals outside the EU to make up for lost trade with the EU. They had scored a goal, but it was in their own net.
If at this point you are thinking the referee is biased, I should add that he subsequently ruled out two goals claimed by Economists. The first was invoking Article 50. Economists claimed that was a foolish thing to do because it would leave the UK fighting against the clock. The referee ruled it out because that was a forecast, and the Brexiteers were still claiming that No Deal was better than a bad deal for the UK. The second was the first quarter GDP figures, with no growth in GDP per head. The referee rightly said that this could just be erratic data and we would have to wait for another quarter at least.
But with the score at 3:0 to the Economists the chances of a Brexiteer win still seemed remote. We now entered the most exciting period of the game yet. The Brexiteer captain called a general election, which she foolishly said was to enable her to consolidate her Brexit position. The Brexiteers threw everything into attack, but this left them weak at the back and a swift counterattack led to the fourth goal in the Brexiteer net. A despondent team then conceded without any resistance a fifth goal, when they agreed to the structure of negotiations set out by the EU. It was now clear the Economists had been right, and starting the Article 50 process had been a huge mistake. Trying to use EU migrants as a bargaining chip became a cruel failure, a tactic apparently invented by the captain herself.
With the Brexiteers now 5:0 down, and with the only prospects being further successful strikes by the Economists (the divorce payment, an interim settlement that effectively keeps existing trade arrangements including free movement), it looks like certain defeat for the Brexiteers. If I had started this off as a boxing match rather than a football match, I could have had the referee calling an end to this fight. It now seems absolutely clear that the Economists have been proved right and the Brexiteers horribly wrong about the economics of Brexit. But Boris Johnson or David Davis are favourites to be the next Prime Minister, Gove is back in the Cabinet and someone is calling for an inquiry into economists because they are "dangerously irrelevant", so what do I know?