Theresa May came under fire at Prime Minister’s Questions on 16 November for her lack of Brexit planning, as the realities of post-EU economics become ever clearer. The Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, has started to prepare his Autumn Statement and is predicted to deliver bleak news. German Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, meanwhile, has delivered stark warnings of what Brexit will really mean.
Under the previous administration led by David Cameron, missed fiscal targets were a regular occurrence. Former Chancellor George Osborne made repeated claims of ‘balancing the books’ and aiming for a budget surplus. In order to achieve this, he embarked on years of crippling austerity measures, which targeted the most vulnerable members of society. Despite this, he repeatedly failed to meet his targets.
Osborne’s successor, Phillip Hammond, must now continue the job – all while May apparently pursues a ‘hard Brexit’. It’s no secret that Hammond is at odds with the Brexit ministers known as the “three brexiteers” (Boris Johnson, David Davies and Liam Fox). And it appears the Chancellor will deliver a damning indictment of his colleagues’ lack of foresight in his Autumn Statement.
Hammond is expected to tell the Commons that the UK faces a £100bn budget deficit because of Brexit. As a result, any pre-existing targets will be missed and the UK will run a significant deficit until at least 2020. When dropped, this economic bombshell will only serve to widen the cabinet split over Europe.
The near future
With May trying to hide the civil war taking place within her government, Hammond’s statement will come at a difficult time. So too will the comments of the German Foreign Minister. Schäuble responded to statements by Boris Johnson that Britain could retain access to the common market without the free movement of people by saying:
There is no a la carte menu. There is only the whole menu or none.
Schäuble went on to dismantle the idea that post-Brexit Britain will be a place of new-found freedom and prosperity, removed from the bureaucracy of Brussels:
Britain will certainly have to fulfil its commitments. Possibly there will be some commitments that last beyond the exit…even, in part, to 2030. Also we cannot grant any generous rebates.
A government on the brink
With her own ministers fighting among themselves and a likely constitutional crisis on the horizon, Prime Minister May already faces grave doubts over her leadership. The prospect of an entirely avoidable economic downturn, caused by her posturing on Brexit, only worsens that.
May’s leadership is currently coming across as ineffectual, insubstantial and incompetent. And she cannot get away with that forever.
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