Four years on from leaving the EU, we have lost our way and what it is to be British - Will Kemp

I used to feel proud to belong to the nation that gave the world Shakespeare and The Beatles, and invented more sports than you can shake a stick at. Moreover, its people had stood up to tyrannical kings and dictators such as Napoleon and Hitler. To be British, I thought, was about doing the right thing.

All that changed with Brexit. I saw it as unnecessary – and a transparent attempt by then PM David Cameron to stamp out division in his party – but assumed the UK would never risk leaving the single market given the economic evils this could spawn.

I wasn’t alone. In May 2016 an Ipsos survey of members of the Royal Economics Society established that 88 per cent thought Brexit would harm Gross Domestic Product (the value of goods and services produced in a given period) with only 4 per cent believing otherwise.

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Likewise the Office for Budget Responsibility warned it would lead to a loss of at least 5 per cent in GDP, with The Financial Times estimating this would equate to £100bn a year in lost output and £40bn less revenue to the Treasury, thus reducing public spending and worsening national debt (currently £2.5trillion).

A European Union flag flies in front of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. PIC: PAA European Union flag flies in front of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. PIC: PA
A European Union flag flies in front of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. PIC: PA

Moreover, the argument for “greater freedom” was clearly false since we were free already, had MEPs and in particular the right to veto draft EU legislation contrary to national interests.

But Vote Leave played a blinder shortly before the referendum in June 2016, claiming that ‘Turkey (76 million people) is joining the EU’ and Brexit would provide an extra £350m a week to the NHS.

Vote Leave architect Dominic Cummings later admitted the £350m claim was a ploy to faze Remainers while the Turkey argument was “effective” but “weak”, since the chances of its accession were – and still are – remote.

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Seven and a half years on, Brexit has not led to the economic bonanza promised by Boris Johnson, but made us poorer, as predicted by the FT and OBR.

It has increased red tape, inflation and national debt. Led to a 10 per cent fall in exports. Bankrupted firms and caused a diaspora of others to relocate to the EU. Reduced fiscal revenue and inward investment. Caused the abolition of a national infrastructure project, HS2, just to balance the books. Taken up too much Parliamentary time in concocting a divorce settlement with the EU.

It has also worsened net migration, which reached its highest level in 2022, and caused migrant workers to come from further afield – for a longer period of time, with more dependents – than their EU predecessors.

Worse still, it has led to a PM seeking to prorogue Parliament, ignore due process when deporting asylum seekers – including those displaced by conflicts to which the UK has contributed – and threaten to renege on trade agreements, sending a signal to other nations that the UK is untrustworthy. This is deeply damaging and no way to run a country.

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Brexit was sold to voters on the basis of disinformation about its benefits to the economy, immigration and autonomy, but has proved hollow on the first two counts and made us look stupid in believing the third. All great drama for sure, but also repugnant, irresponsible and shameful. As such, we have lost our way, and what it is to be British; and if this is greater sovereignty, it leaves me wanting more checks and balances, not fewer.

Will Kemp studied Economics at Cambridge University.

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