Like almost all of my Labour colleagues, and the 16 million people who voted to remain in the EU back in June, I was bitterly disappointed by the result of the referendum. However, we have to accept the result and focus on negotiating the best possible deal for Britain, which retains as many of the advantages of our EU membership as possible. And I hope Brexit will not leave working people worse off.
But that doesn’t mean that the Leave campaigners in the referendum should not be held to account for the promises they made and the policies they advanced during that campaign. Theresa May’s government is dominated by Vote Leave ministers. Their campaign is now at the heart of the British government.
They repeatedly dismissed warnings of the economic consequences of Brexit as “scaremongering” and “Project Fear”. Our new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, confidently predicted that leaving would create 300,000 new jobs. David Davis said brashly that, of course, growth would “go up not down” if Britain left the EU.
So let’s measure these blithe assurances against the reality. The sad fact is that the economic data published since the referendum has been worrying. Just yesterday, a CBI study showed retail sales falling to their lowest point for four years. These figures together with other post-referendum economic indicators suggest a concerning deterioration in business confidence.
The Markit survey of purchasing managers has shown confidence plummet to levels last seen during the Great Recession of 2008-09. And the pound’s value against the dollar has crashed to 1980s levels.
When the new GDP figures were released yesterday, showing growth of 0.6 per cent, some where quick to herald this as some kind of ‘Brexit boom’. But the truth is that these statistics covered the second quarter of the year only – that is, before the referendum was held. Eurosceptics have proved themselves expert purveyors of misinformation, but to spin this as evidence that the Leave vote has boosted the economy is absurd. In reality, the economic indicators contradict Mr Davis.
These are early days. But for the families heading off on holiday finding everything to be more expensive; the high street shopkeepers watching their takings fall; and the workers anxious that their companies may reduce investment, it is clear Vote Leave’s broken promises on the economy are having an impact.
And this is even before we get to the bus-sized promise that Brexit would mean an extra £350m a week for the NHS, which Brexiteers like Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Chris Grayling started to row back on the minute the referendum result was known.
Whether we voted Remain or Leave, we all want what’s best for Britain. That doesn’t just mean coming up with a new relationship with Europe; it means holding those in power to account for their promises. When the evidence shows that senior members of the cabinet made promises they knew could not be kept, we need to call them out on it. It is vital for our democracy that this Vote Leave government is held to account.
This article originally appeared in The Times Red Box