The Spring Statement Spoke Volumes About Britain's Broken Political Parties

Brexit, in any form, will stunt our future economic prospects but both parties treated this crisis like the elephant in the room

It wasn’t just the Chancellor’s Spring Statement that nearly disappeared under the avalanche of Brexit news. It was also the understanding you’d expect from a Chancellor and a Shadow Chancellor of the significance Brexit will have on the prospects for the economy, the public finances, and the future of our communities, families and businesses.

These spokespeople for the two major parties treated Brexit like the elephant in the room – present but not involved – pretending that if we can all just move on then we can get back to business as usual. But we cannot. Brexit, in any form, will stunt our future economic prospects. We know this because the Treasury itself told us so in its own economic assessment.

A ‘softer’ Brexit may be mildly less painful, but it will be painful nevertheless. The Government admitted last year that their preferred Brexit option would leave a hole in tax revenues of the order of £40billion per year by 2033, growing to £81billion in a ‘no-deal’ scenario. So when Philip Hammond told us in his remarks that there was a “deal dividend”, it certainly won’t feel like that to the schools, hospitals, emergency services and most vulnerable in society who will be worst affected by the economic impact of Brexit.

John McDonnell – of the Official Opposition, who are supposed to be holding the Government to account and providing an alternative – wasn’t any better. He continued to peddle the myth of a ‘jobs-first Brexit’, and the notion that we can leave the Single Market and somehow nothing will change. He’s wrong. Not only should he know better – but most Labour MPs and Labour supporters do indeed know better.

The killer statistic from the Office of Budget Responsibility was their forecast of a 3.2% fall in expected business investment in 2019, compared to their last forecast. This is a staggering erosion of the gains made through industrial advances and capital needed to keep the engine of Britain’s economy motoring. If business investment falls off, so will productivity and so will our growth prospects. Prospects unsurprisingly also downgraded down to a meagre 1.2% prediction for 2019.

The Shadow Chancellor might not accept it, but the revenues we need to pay for our public services have to be generated by the engine of growth in our economy. A weak economy means weak public services. What’s worse is that – despite sterling’s depreciation since the Brexit referendum – net trade is also now dragging growth down, rather than adding to it. The story of Brexit uncertainty, so far, is that many firms have downgraded investment in new technology and innovation, and have instead started stockpiling and building up their inventories in case of emergency – often importing many of the things they worry may be difficult to obtain if our borders are gridlocked.

There were some welcome changes announced by the Chancellor, on knife crime, carbon reduction and free sanitary products in schools. But it was the talk of sunny uplands that devalued Philip Hammond’s credibility. The main political parties are trading phoney promises of investment and rebuilding public services, apparently oblivious to the damage Brexit will do. Many people who depend on local facilities, council services, elderly social care or a myriad of other vital public functions will feel like pawns in a political chess game, with none of the main parties genuinely fighting their corner.

The Chancellor could have taken specific steps now, funded by monies already saved, to help the least well-off. For instance, he could have ended the fourth year of the welfare benefits freeze – because the first three years saved more than the Government were originally targeting to make. But he chose not to do so, demonstrating this Government’s priorities, which, apparently, do not include those in greatest need. The attention of this Government is elsewhere, but if we continue down this Brexit path it will be the poorest in society who will need to steel themselves for the burden of further pressures to come.

As a member of The Independent Group of MPs, which has recently formed, I have lost my patience with our broken politics and am determined to change it. We cannot go on with the usual ‘Punch and Judy’ of Tories and Labour as they drift towards their ideological fringes. It’s time for MPs to put their party tribalism to one side, speak the truth about the risks ahead, and focus on the long-term in the national interest. Pretending that everything will just go back to business as usual merely increases the risks for those who depend on our public services the most, for many years to come. Our politics is broken and we need to change it.

Chris Leslie is the Independent Group MP for Nottingham East. Find out more about The Independent Group at


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