THE BLOG

Autumn Statement: The Truth Hurts

25/11/2016 09:34

Just recently, Oxford Dictionaries announced that "post-truth" would be its international word of the year. Crediting the term's rise on the US presidential and EU referendum campaigns, Wednesday's autumn statement is no doubt a continuation of the trend. The term is defined as where 'objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion'. An apt phrase to contextualise the Chancellor's statement is one made famous by former US President George W. Bush, 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me'. So my question to the Chancellor is, who does he think he's fooling? As the initial Brexit dust begins to settle, attempting to paint Wednesday's statement as anything but a disaster, is an insult to the intelligence of the British people.

I do commend some initiatives by the Chancellor, such as the Lib Dem-led charge to ban letting fees levied on private tenants, increasing the minimum wage, and investing billions in infrastructure and innovation. However, despite any of the spin that you will no doubt read from the Tories in the coming days, the significance of all of these moves will be rendered to peanuts without adequately addressing the Brexit elephant in the room. Membership of the EU's single market is mission critical to the long-term prosperity of the UK. There are no policy alternatives that can move Britain forward without it.

The OBR has calculated that Brexit's impact will cost taxpayers billions over the next five years--forecasting a rise in unemployment, a decline in living standards and a £220bn black hole in the public purse. With the government withholding any strategy or plan for exiting the EU, Britons left in the dark get the sense that this government is making it up as they go along. A lack of an open and transparent dialogue is sending the wrong signal to the business and international communities. We know that the Treasury refused to disclose to the OBR as to whether or not there were any costs associated with convincing Nissan to maintain manufacturing production in the UK after Brexit threatened their departure. If the government is purposely hiding information from the OBR, how can we trust that the real costs of Brexit won't be significantly higher? Shady behaviour of this nature only further fuels the fire that this government's critics rightly claim is raging--they have no plan.

With under performing hospitals, long wait times, and social care cuts, the NHS is facing a winter crisis without an immediate £4bn injection. Britons are already suffering now; can you imagine what our future will look like for essential services like health and care with a £220bn black hole? Membership of the single market is the only way to mitigate the existence of current and future social despair. The British people deserve better than the chaos emerging from Whitehall, and they need an effective opposition to hold them to account. With Labour in disarray, they've failed to demonstrate the leadership Britons are desperately crying out for to fight for the soft Brexit we need. The Lib Dems have been and will continue to do just that.

Having served in public life for nearly three decades, I can say with confidence that no deal is reached without compromise. I understand that Theresa May's government seems determined to plough forth with Brexit at any cost, but if these OBR forecasts are even the slightest indication of what the future holds, they need to wake up and smell the coffee. No matter what side of the debate you're on, surely, when our very livelihoods come under threat, doing the right thing must trump political stubbornness. At this critical juncture, history will look back at these next few months and hold us to account. In a year where post-truth has come to dominate, we should take a step back, avoid self-inflicted damage, and do everything we possibly can to retain our membership of the single market. If not, this ugly truth will hurt for a very long time.

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