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It is strange to be debating Britain’s place in the world in the context of a Budget statement that refused to address the single issue that will completely dominate our place in the world for an entire generation: Brexit—a word the Chancellor managed to avoid using even once in his speech. His announcement that he will spend £500 million of new money on technology such as artificial intelligence sounds wonderful, but when we look at what is happening in the real economy, we see that our high-tech businesses are actively considering whether they can afford to remain in the UK at all if we leave the single market.
Only last week, the UKIE—the Association for United Kingdom Interactive Entertainment—which represents the UK’s dramatically successful gaming industry and has several members in my constituency, Norwich South, reported that 40% of its members are considering relocating all or part of their businesses abroad because of Brexit. Of course, the same figure, or higher, will be found in many other parts of the UK economy. The Chancellor knows that, and that it was always likely to be the case, which is why he—along with the Prime Minister, of course—opposed Brexit in the referendum.
Has the Chancellor, then, made any allowance in his forecasts for future losses in tax revenue yielded by the taxes of EU citizens working in the UK, who may be given no choice but to leave rather than be forced through the humiliation of expulsion? Some 7% of the UK workforce are EU citizens, and the Office for National Statistics estimates that they have been the net contributors of more than £20 billion in the past decade. Why did he make no mention of the tens of billions of pounds the UK will be asked to pay in exit-related costs? The OBR is clear that he has made no contingency for this huge cost, which may be more than £50 billion—why?
As time passes it becomes clearer that the Government have been hijacked by a small gang of ideological fanatics who want the hardest of hard Brexits, and against whom the Prime Minister and her Chancellor appear powerless. This hard Tory Brexit rests on nothing more than wishful thinking—on the fantasy that the UK will be able simply to stroll up to negotiating tables around the world and come away with deals that favour us and our industries, as if the likes of China, India and a Trump-led USA are unaware of how isolated and desperate our position will be.
Last June, the British people did not vote to apparently reclaim their sovereignty, laws and rights from Brussels only to see the Government auction them off to the highest bidder, behind closed doors. We are talking about our NHS, our Climate Change Act, and our employee rights. Nor did the British people vote to divide the Union, yet the Government’s hard Brexit is the key reason Nicola Sturgeon has given for requesting a second referendum. The First Minister wants the people of Scotland to have a choice, just as the Government now have a choice: do they want hard Brexit or do they want to retain the Union?
We must be on our guard. We stand to lose much more than the economy and the Union if we continue down this path. The world that the Donald Trumps, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pens want to build is a genuinely dangerous one. It is a world of protectionism, bragging nationalism and domestic politics dominated by the empty, angry rhetoric of scapegoating. As any student of 20th-century history will tell us, these are ominous tidings indeed. The world around us is rapidly changing, and not always for the better. Out there, there is a sense that things are out of control. The term “going to hell in a handcart” is one we hear frequently. In this climate of uncertainty and instability—