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Fake News

Daniel Hannan takes his Brexit untruths transatlantic

by Luke Lythgoe | 31.07.2017

The headline should have been a clue as to what to expect, if the name of the author had not done the trick already: “The Good News on Brexit They’re Not Telling You”. But given that the opinion piece in today’s New York Times was by Daniel Hannan MEP, past experience more or less guaranteed that untruths would abound.

Not all about immigration

Hannan began with a strange whopper: a claim that it is Remainers who assert, against the opinion poll evidence, that the referendum vote was all about immigration. “If a British person tells you” this, he said, “I can almost guarantee that you are talking to a Remainer”.

This may be so, except for the fact that even the poll he used as evidence for this “guarantee” showed that a third of Leavers had voted primarily to regain control over immigration. So you could be talking to one of them.

Or possibly you are talking to Liam Fox, international trade minister who is negotiating the US-UK deal that Hannan anticipates as a “prize” ahead. Fox told the BBC on Sunday that allowing free movement during a transition period would “not keep faith” with the referendum result.

Or perhaps Hannan’s fellow MEP, Nigel Farage, who wrote in the Telegraph on July 25 that “The Great Brexit Betrayal Has Begun” because the vote was all about, guess what, immigration, and many Leave voters want a complete stop brought to it.

The point is that Hannan is not personally among those Brexiters who want an end to immigration. But that does not make him accurate in his claim. Last week, for example, an Ipsos-MORI poll showed 63% of respondents saying that they think it is important to achieve full control over immigration in the Brexit talks.

Doomsday cultists postponing the apocalypse

Hannan then turned his attention to “euro-fanatics”, whom he accused of acting like “doomsday cultists”, predicting and then “constantly postponing” the date of the economic apocalypse.

He leveled the charge of “confirmation bias” at Remainers for their selective reading of the economy, then attempted to prove the Brexit economy is doing well by deploying his own carefully selected examples. He went as far as insisting that “most people, whichever way they voted, are celebrating the good news”.

Hannan wrote about falling unemployment, without recognising the fall in people’s real wages that has resulted from the higher inflation caused by sterling’s post-Brexit devaluation. He hailed record manufacturing orders, without mentioning that manufacturing output has lately actually been declining, which is one reason why the past two quarters’ GDP figures were weak. He lauded a rise in retail sales (largely attributed to fashion sales for the hot summer), without acknowledging that this follows a decline earlier in the year or the concerns over surging consumer debt and declining personal savings. He lauded a 10% rise in exports without noting that imports have also been strong, and as a result the UK’s current-account deficit of 4.4% of GDP drew concern last week from the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, as reported in that doomsday cult paper the Daily Telegraph.

Unfortunately for Hannan, online readers of his article could easily fill in the blanks for themselves by following the links helpfully provided by the NYT to more balanced news reports from the BBC, Bloomberg and even the pro-Brexit Telegraph.

Why does Hannan feel the need for such a lopsided portrayal of the UK economy? Venturing into dangerous territory for a Leave campaigner, he says it is only “fair” to contrast reality with what was said during the referendum campaign. Hannan claims that “Remain campaigners told us to expect a recession in 2016”. Certainly some politicians were happy to play on recession fears, but top economists said no such thing. Bank of England governor Mark Carney only went as far as saying Brexit “could possibly include a technical recession” – he neither guaranteed this nor said when it might happen. He did, however, confidently forecast a “material slowdown in growth (and) notable increase in inflation”, both of which are happening now.

Instead, perhaps, Hannan has chosen this moment to challenge the economic bad news because he knows it is the greatest weakness to the Brexit cause. Recent polling shows the proportion of people who think the UK will be better off after Brexit is at a record low 25%. This is reflected in Theresa May’s cabinet, currently in turmoil over how hard or soft their Brexit policy should be.

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Edited by Bill Emmott