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Bregret: the Brexit dream has turned into a nightmare

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

When Britain went to the polls to decide its future with or without the European Union, Brexit was just a dream. It was a hazy memory of a bright and shining utopia formed within the mind. For Leave voters, it was a technicolour vision with 'The Land of Hope and Glory' playing in the background. As the Union Flag was raised high, Brexiteers offered a salute of their own in this wet dream.

And then they woke up. But they're still living in the land of nod.

The Brexit dream has turned into a nightmare. As though the country ate some cheese before they went to sleep, and its brain has conjured up night terrors that haunt it in its slumber, and in its every waking hour.

The Brexit nightmare is now a phantom, lurking around the corner. It is the monster under the bed, or the creature hiding in the closet - you know it is there, you know it is coming, but you daren't look. This ghoulish caricature sounds like what the Leave campaign painted as Project Fear - the problem is, it is now Project Reality.

When the British government negotiates its exit from the European Union, it is less about opportunity - and more about damage control. Westminster is trying to work out "how can we make this not hurt as much?" with Brussels. They are trying to pull off the plaster, determining how much the wound is going to bleed; and hoping to high heaven that they do not bleed out.

David Davis and his team would prefer to live in dreamland, and they would like the rest of the country to join them. The Brexit secretary told a committee of MPs in December 2016 that his department had carried out around 57 sectoral analyses.

Naturally, MPs wanted to give them a look over, and asked him when they were being published. Mr Davis told the Brexit Committee, chaired by Labour's Hilary Benn, that analysis of how Brexit could impact sectors does not exist at all. With the government umming and ahhing over their publication, their hand was forced by a vote in parliament. After a long battle, the Brexit committee published summaries of 39 sectors that will be impacted by Britain's departure from the bloc. The "excruciating detail" promised by Mr Davis turned out to be, what MPs and campaigners dismissed as, a “shoddy mess” with little detail.

In lieu of in-depth analysis from the government, Sadiq Khan has stepped in by commissioning an economic forecast of his own. The Mayor of London worked with Cambridge Econometrics to model five possible scenarios for leaving the EU, from a same-but-different situation to leaving on World Trade Organisation terms without a transition. The forecast projects, in the worst option, that Britain could face a "lost decade" of economic slump. A cliff-edge Brexit could cause the UK to lose half a million jobs and nearly £50 billion in investment by 2030, according to the report.

A hard Brexit could result in London losing as many as 87,000 jobs. It is not an unrealistic figure. Sam Woods, the deputy governor of the Bank of England, told a parliamentary committee in November that the capital could face 75,000 job losses - with the City potentially losing 10,000 jobs on day one of Brexit.

And London is likely to be spared the worst economic effects. As the Financial Times notes: "The softer the deal with the EU27 is, the better for the UK and for London, but the capital will perform better than other areas of the country in each scenario modelled." If Britain leaves the customs union and the single market, and reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, the country would be roughly three per cent worse off by 2030. In the hard Brexit scenario, the hit to the capital was estimated at 2.1 per cent.

The softest Brexit of them all - none whatsoever - could be the least painful option for Britain. As the exit draws nearer, Project Fear is forming into Project Reality, and the bad dream seems inescapable. Brexiteers, meanwhile, are living in dreamland, hoping the predictions will not come true when they wake up. Don't have nightmares, do sleep well.

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