Brexit chaos could snuff out signs that austerity is finally ending '“ leader comment

Hopeful signs for the economy could be crushed by Brexit as parliament descends into chaos.

A pro-Brexit demonstration outside parliament (Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Ten years on from the devastation caused by the 2008 financial crash, Scotland’s unemployment rate has just hit a record low of 3.7 per cent.

And yesterday’s good news did not stop there with average weekly wages for the UK hitting £495 in the three months to October – the highest figure since 2011, after a 3.3 per cent rise on the same period the year before, the biggest rise since November 2008.

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For many who have been working in low-paid jobs and for those who have effectively experienced pay cuts for years, Theresa May’s claim in October that austerity was coming to an end will not have rung true.

But the figures at least suggest the beginning of the end of this dismal decade, that finally people can look forward to a brighter future, that the cost-of-living riots in France will not be repeated here, and that far-right populists will not be able to exploit public discontent.

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All this could be said but for one huge problem: Brexit. The political chaos continued yesterday as May desperately tried to win concessions from the EU that might appease hard-core Brexiteers to enable her Withdrawal Agreement to be passed. There were few signs that she would be able to achieve anything substantive. Meanwhile, Tory MP George Freeman issued a public plea for colleagues not to force a party leadership election that could oust the May. “I beg you not to. The country would never forgive us,” he tweeted. But he also suggested May should now try to “find a Brexit [deal] that could command a majority via cross-party support” or be replaced by a caretaker Prime Minister who could.

It is a profound failure of leadership on May’s part to have negotiated a deal without ensuring it would have sufficient support. No wonder the UK Government tried to prevent MPs from having a say all the way to the Supreme Court.

But ousting May or holding a snap general election would take up much of the little amount of time left until Brexit arrives on Friday, 29 March – unless that date is delayed. And either scenario would be as likely to produce more chaos as any certainty.

Just as the people of this country have finally managed to put the wheels back on the economy, repairing the damage caused by irresponsible banks, our politicians appear hell-bent on swinging a wrecking ball. To echo Freeman, the country will never forgive them if they do.