Not so much the elephant in the room – more a herd of the thunderous beasts knocking over the coffee tables and smashing the crockery. Amid the general rejoicing over extra money for the NHS and raising income tax thresholds, few have noticed that the most important economic issue facing the country secured just one passing mention in Philip Hammond’s 70-minute Budget statement this week. Yes, I am talking about Brexit.
Take one simple fiscal fact. A clean break from the EU next March would save the UK taxpayer £39 billion – actually £46.8bn, according to the Office of Budget Responsibility’s latest sums. This amount is now over twice the £20.5 billion extra that the NHS will be receiving in a few years’ time – and far more than the £420 million the Chancellor has allocated to smoothing over the potholes ruining many of our cars.
Yet, there has been no sense from Mr Hammond that he sees Brexit as a great opportunity for transforming the UK into a low tax, light regulation, open and dynamic economy trading freely with the whole world and competing vigorously in the global marketplace. Quite the opposite. As Boris Johnson put it, the Treasury is still the heart of Remain.
Yes, we are leaving the EU. But the Chequers proposals that Mr Hammond supports would see us, in effect, following the EU single market rulebook, staying in the customs union and timidly sheltering behind its protectionist walls. What is the point of Brexit, if we are subordinate to rules written by 27 other countries without our input – and then have to set our tax and spending plans accordingly?
To read the piece in full, click here.