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The Treasury dishes up more Brexit fearmongering. Will it work?

23 May 2016

7:58 AM

23 May 2016

7:58 AM

It’s now exactly one month until the EU referendum and the Treasury has marked the moment with another economic warning about the consequences of Brexit. The analysis out today claims that walking away from the European Union would kick-start a year-long recession. Brexit would also lower the country’s economic growth down by 3.6 per cent, according to the analysis. Although George Osborne must be nearing the point of running out of words to describe the economic ramifications of Brexit, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, Osborne and Cameron had this to say:

‘It is clear that there would be an immediate and profound shock to our economy. The analysis produced by the Treasury today shows that a vote to leave will push our economy into a recession that would knock 3.6 per cent off GDP and, over two years, put hundreds of thousands of people out of work right across the country, compared to the forecast for continued growth if we vote to remain in the EU.’

The economic argument is the same as before: Brexit would be bad news for the economy. We’ve also seen a new phrase touted today about how a leave vote this time next month would spark a ‘DIY recession’. This is clunky enough that it won’t turn into the catchphrase that Osborne and Cameron may have hoped but that won’t matter much. The main point of today’s report isn’t that it will be taken in isolation but that it forms part of the drum beat warning of the economic danger of Brexit. Take this from the Telegraph article:

‘A few weeks ago, the Treasury published analysis which shows Britain would be worse off to the tune of £4,300 for every household every year by 2030. Today, we are setting out our assessment of what would happen in the weeks and months after a vote to Leave on June 23.’

There’s no attempt to analyse the figures that came before. Instead, once the stats are released, the Treasury and the Government hope that no one actually digs beneath the headline warning against what Brexit would mean. In fact, the previous analysis which mixed up GDP and household income, didn’t hold much water at all (it’s impossible to say whether today’s figures do because the reasoning behind them hasn’t been released yet, although you can’t blame people for being sceptical).


Whilst this doomsday warning today doesn’t necessarily reveal anything we weren’t already warned about, it once again emphasises the importance of the economy for the Government and for the remain campaign. We’ve heard from the Treasury before, and the IMF and the Bank of England in what look like a co-ordinated pattern of warnings. Although leave may be focusing on migration, increasingly the remain campaign are showing that the hand they’ve chosen to play consists of three things: the economy, the economy and the economy.

The government want voters to remember this pattern of warnings when they come to vote on June 23rd. And with the last crash still fresh in the memory, the focus is on terrifying voters into thinking a vote for leave will hit them where it hurts most: in the pocket. The figures might not necessarily add up, the warnings might be based on conjecture. But so long as that lingering thought is there in peoples’ minds, Osborne and Cameron won’t mind a bit.

Update, 11.30am: Just in case it wasn’t obvious that today’s analysis is part of ‘Project Fear, the Treasury has helpfully used Halloween-style lettering to announce the publication’s release on its website:

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