Why Jeremy Hunt statement exposes Brexit as a foolish act of self-harm and Nicola Sturgeon's independence bluster - Euan McColm

As thankless tasks go, this one took some beating.

Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement was a no-win exercise for the man appointed Chancellor just a month ago and charged with putting right what went so badly wrong under his predecessor Kwasi Kwarteng.

The fact of the matter is that putting things right is not possible. Not in the short to medium term, anyway.

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We will not examine the consequences of Hunt’s plans in a month or a year and see sunlit economic uplands. We’ll see a bad situation and we will blame him and this Conservative Government and everyone who ever served in it.

Euan McColm has taken aim at Brexit and the push for another Scottish independence referendum in the wake of the autumn statement. Picture: PA
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The Tories might try to argue Hunt’s actions ensured things didn’t turn out as badly as they might have done, but how are we ever going to be able to judge that? How will we know how bad things might have been?

And, anyway, we’ll all be focused on how bad they are, which, I think it’s now clear for all to see, will be very bad, indeed.

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There were positives in Hunt’s statement for anyone worried about the mounting cost-of-living crisis. The extension of the household energy price cap for a year beyond April 2023 will help a little but, with typical bills to be capped at £3,000 rather than the current £2,500, the gruel is thin.

A small increase in the minimum wage and a rise in state pensions and means-tested and disability benefits in one with inflation offered other small glimmers of good news.

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Where former prime minister Liz Truss and Kwarteng announced tax cuts for the wealthiest in their disastrous “mini-budget” in September, Hunt has decided the threshold at which taxpayers south of the border begin paying the 45 per cent top rate of tax will drop from £150,000 to £125,140.

The ball on that one is now in the Scottish Government’s court. I think it likely the SNP will follow suit if only because it would be a bad look to tax the richest less heavily than a Tory Government does.

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It suits the Labour Party now to avoid getting into detail about what it might do differently. For the time being, the economic crisis is a Tory problem demanding relentless attacks on the Government’s inadequacy.

The prize for keeping the pressure on the Tories is that, come the next general election, the financial mess will become Labour’s problem.

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I’m not certain that Labour’s failure to bring forward concrete proposals of its own is sustainable for long, but right now who can blame opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer for avoiding difficult questions about what his government might do differently.

Meanwhile, both the Conservatives and Labour continue to ignore the thwocking great elephant rolling around in our political debate.

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Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Hunt said unrestricted trade with the EU would be “very beneficial” to growth, but that re-joining the single market would not be the right way to achieve this growth.

More than six years after a small majority voted for Brexit, both major UK parties continue to shy away from speaking the truth about it. Even now, as people’s livelihoods are threatened, neither party has the courage to say that leaving the EU was a foolish act of self-harm.

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Instead, both Labour and Tories prefer to indulge those who bought into the lies told by the Leave campaign in 2016.

The people who believed Brexiteer bulls**t about the endless positives of breaking ties with our main trading partners are not to be challenged, even as they see the negative impact of their vote on their communities. Project Fear may have turned out to be Project Truth, but still we are to pretend this is no longer a matter worth discussing.

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Hunt, of course, was a Remainer in 2016, but now he dares not speak the truth as he sees it, which is that leaving the EU was a mistake.

Of course, not everyone who voted for Brexit was a racist. But every racist voted for Brexit. There is something impossibly bleak about a nation in economic crisis ignoring one of the exacerbating factors to keep those people happy.

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Of course, Brexit and the actions of the last prime minister and her chancellor are not entirely to blame for the battering now being taken by the UK economy. Developed economies around the world are suffering to varying degrees. while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed fuel prices up.

But the fact remains that breaking up a successful, if imperfect, union has cost us all.

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Naturally, none of this makes a blind bit of difference to the SNP, which hopes that, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will rule the Scottish Government has the authority to run a second independence referendum.

It seems vanishingly unlikely the court will give the nationalists what they want, but, if it does, then the SNP will argue independence is a life-raft from the listing UK ship. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will argue warnings about the cost of independence really are the stuff of Project Fear. She will, because she is the same political animal, uses the sort of bluff, bluster and evasion that populist Brexiteers did in 2016.

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At times of uncertainty, we look to political leaders for reassurance. I’m not sure any of them – whether at Westminster or Holyrood – is able to provide much comfort, right now.

While Labour and the Conservatives continue to shy away from speaking the truth about Brexit and the SNP continues to insist that further disruption is the solution, we are not being well served by any of the main parties.

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