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Brexit Boom
September 2017

Remember the three-million-jobs-at-risk claim that was central to the economic case for remaining in the European Union? It originated in a 1999 report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which observed that “up to 3.2 million jobs are now associated directly with exports of goods and services to the EU countries”.

Britain in Europe, a cross-party ginger group launched by Tony Blair, Kenneth Clarke and other bigwigs, rejigged the National Institute’s words so that three million jobs “depended” on EU membership. This evolved on restatement to something much more spine-chilling. Nick Clegg’s formula in a Daily Telegraph story of January 11, 2013 was that three million jobs were “dependent on our position as a leading member of the world’s biggest borderless single market, you play with that status at your peril; there are jobs at stake, livelihoods.” He warned that leaving the EU meant isolation, and that “isolation costs jobs, costs growth, costs people’s livelihoods”.

Britain remains, for the time being, an EU member, and Blair, Clarke, Clegg & Co might argue that a true test is yet to come. But forecasts of an early recession and heavy job losses were certainly part of Project Fear, both ahead of and in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum on June 23, 2016. The doom-mongering was as much about what would happen just after a majority vote to leave as it was about the sequel to Brexit proper.

The Financial Times might be seen as the intellectual leader of Brexit pessimism and its economic commentator, Martin Wolf, as its foremost Jeremiah. His judgment, less than a week after the referendum result, was that, “I would be very surprised if we don’t have a year or two or three of a real recession.” He also sneered at the Brexiteers’ “mendacious campaign”.

We have not yet had two or three years since June 23, 2016, but we have had more than a year, and we also have almost a year of official employment data. If the three-million-jobs-at-risk proposition were even a quarter correct, and if “a real recession” were indeed attributable to leaving the EU, something ought to be evident in the numbers. So what does the July 12, 2017 Statistical Bulletin on the “UK labour market” from the Office of National Statistics say about the situation?

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