Brexit: UK ignores hard evidence as no-deal looms large – leader comment

Is Boris Johnson a 'mumpsimus' (Picture: Julian Simmonds/The Daily Telegraph/PA Wire)Is Boris Johnson a 'mumpsimus' (Picture: Julian Simmonds/The Daily Telegraph/PA Wire)
Is Boris Johnson a 'mumpsimus' (Picture: Julian Simmonds/The Daily Telegraph/PA Wire)
As the Office for National Statistics reveals the UK’s GDP fell in the second quarter of the year, it feels like such evidence no longer matters to some politicians.

Mumpsimus is a word that has almost entirely fallen out of use, but which lexicographer Susie Dent has suggested could be brought back into modern-day parlance. It means “someone who sticks obstinately to their beliefs, in spite of clear evidence that they are wrong,” she tweeted last year.

Yesterday saw the Office for National Statistics produce some hard evidence about the state of the economy – the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) had fallen by 0.2 per cent between the start of April and the end of June.

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This was contrary to economists’ forecasts as they had been expecting GDP to stay flat with zero per cent growth. So the ‘experts’ got it wrong – it was worse than they thought.

If the economy shrinks further over July, August and September, then the UK will be in what economists call a recession, just in time for 31 October, when it is looking increasingly likely that the UK will crash out of the European Union without a deal.

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UK teetering on brink of recession as economy shrinks

After the figure was announced, the CBI said business sentiment was “dire” because of uncertainty over Brexit combined with slower global growth; the Federation of Small Businesses called for “radical action” from the Chancellor to stave off a “chaotic autumn – and a very long winter”; and the Liberal Democrat’s Treasury spokesman Chuka Umunna warned that “people’s jobs and livelihoods are being sacrificed at the altar of political extremism”.

But, it seems, none of this matters. Not the impassioned political rhetoric, not the business world’s fears, not the carefully compiled ONS statistics. In a world where truth has come under attack from politicians, experts are derided as members of an out-of-touch elite and politics has become a battle not of ideas but of personalities, facts are a minor consideration. They are not going to win over hearts and minds of true believers on either side of the debate.

Britain has lost its reason.

The damage caused to the UK economy simply by the prospect of Brexit, the idea of it, will be clear to most Remainers. For many Brexiteers, apparently including Boris Johnson and most of his Cabinet, it is all just ‘Project Fear’ and the UK will emerge triumphant.

For reasons that may puzzle future generations, a no-deal Brexit is about to happen even though this outcome is far removed from the vision promised to Leave voters ahead of the 2016 referendum.

But one thing is clear. After a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, we are all going to find out the hard, cold reality of its effects on the British economy. The ONS figures give a clear indication of the direction of travel.

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The politicians who have skillfully manoeuvred the UK into its current position will seek to escape any blame, with Brussels already being set up to be the scapegoat.

One can only hope we learn the right lessons from what is about to happen – to be better at spotting political charlatans, to distrust those who blame a country’s problems on immigrants, to rely on evidence and reasoned debate when making decisions, and to trust experts, people with genuine knowledge, like the meaning of a long-forgotten and slightly comical word.