Leader comment: Brexit torpedoes spending pledges

The IFS questioning the credibility of the spending plans by the main parties is hardly a surprise.

The YouGov poll is predicting that Boris Johnson should be returned comfortably to Downing Street. Picture: Getty

In many ways the Institute for Fiscal Studies was merely confirming what many people had surely already concluded.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour are offering “credible” spending plans ahead of the election, the independent think tank said yesterday. When it comes to manifesto pledges, plus ca change?

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The Lib Dem manifesto, while involving lower levels of borrowing than the Tories or Labour, would still be seen as “radical” in normal times, the IFS added.

The truth is that the uncertainty around Brexit makes navigating these election pledges almost impossible. Whatever happens, with an exit from the EU, a second referendum or even Article 50 being revoked, all bets are off.

One issue is dominating this election, and at the end of the day the EU is likely to swing it.

If the latest YouGov poll projection is accurate, and it was this model which famously predicted the 2017 hung parliament when others did not, then Boris Johnson should be returned comfortably to Downing Street and the SNP should make major gains.

That would presumably mean a swift exit from the EU, a renewed focus on a second independence referendum, and a turbulent year until the end of the transition period.

But even if that happens then the true impact of Brexit will not be seen until at least 2021.

The Tories are currently pledging not to extend the transition period beyond next year, whether a trade deal has been agreed or not.

Sound familiar?

If that came to pass then promises and spending pledges made now would be thrown out of the window as we face trading on WTO terms.

Anyone who thought this election might finally resolve the Brexit debate one way or another should think again, it is only just beginning.

And while the Conservatives may be cheered by the latest polling, the careful intervention by Johnson’s chief strategist Dominic Cummings this week was telling.

“Things are much tighter than they seem and there is a very real possibility of a hung parliament,” he wrote.

An attempt to tackle complacency and ensure the vote comes out? Perhaps.

But it is also true that much can change in a campaign in two weeks – just ask Theresa May.