Today's GDP figures are the final nail in the coffin of Osborne's credibility

This was all so avoidable, and entirely predictable.

The Q2 GDP growth figures from the ONS today were absolutely awful. Indeed, it was even worse than I had expected, having predicted -0.5 per cent against a consensus view of -0.2 per cent. The number came in at -0.7 per cent, which meant that the economy has had three successive quarters of negative growth - four of the last five and five of the last seven.

The economy has contracted by 1.4 per cent over the last three quarters and by 0.8 per cent since the Chancellor's autumn statement in 2010. The UK and Italy are the only two major countries in double dip recession and growth has been worse in the UK over the last year than it has been in Spain. The decline was broad-based, driven especially by a collapse in construction, which declined by 5.2 per cent in Q2, following 4.9 per cent on the previous quarter. Production fell by 1.3 per cent and services by 0.1 per cent. The IMF forecast of 0.2 per cent growth last week already looks overly optimistic - I have pencilled in -0.5 per cent or worse.

The coalition government took over an economy that was growing and by its inept policies it has killed growth stone dead. In interviews today, the Chancellor claimed he was “relentlessly focused” on sorting the economy out in the same way (presumably as King Canute was also determined to keep the tide back?). This, as ever, was worthless drivel because it is clear to all that the government's economic policy of austerity has failed and they have no clue what to do. The only fix is a fundamental U-turn with tax cuts, especially VAT, and big incentives for firms to invest and hire today – not in three years time. And what about youth unemployment? Policies to get infrastructure going are welcome but they won't have any effect for years; they should have been implemented when the government took office - now it is too late to get the economy growing again anytime soon. The Tory-led government still has no growth plan. If it does, let’s hear it.

The recession deniers were out in force saying that they couldn’t possibly be wrong, so there must be something wrong with the numbers. Of course, the main reason for this is that they supported the government's austerity nonsense and have egg on their faces. Just to make the point for the umpteenth time – the average data revision over the last 20 years is +0.1 per cent and over the last five years -0.1 per cent. In fact, the data revisions have generally been on the low side when the economy is slowing, as occurred in 2008. The statistical chances of the data being revised down further are the same as being revised up.

I do recall the 35 business leaders, who wrote to the Telegraph in October 2010 to say:

It has been suggested that the deficit reduction programme set out by George Osborne in his emergency Budget should be watered down and spread over more than one parliament. We believe that this would be a mistake. Addressing the debt problem in a decisive way will improve business and consumer confidence....There is no reason to think that the pace of consolidation envisaged in the Budget will undermine the recovery.

It hasn't exactly worked out that way. There has been no recovery, the economy is smaller today than it was when they put pen to paper, and business and consumer confidence has collapsed. It would be interesting to hear from them today on why it all went so badly wrong. Their silence is telling.

I now have every expectation that within a few days the UK will lose its AAA credit rating. I never thought it was actually a big deal as proved by the fact that when France was downgraded and bond yields fell. But Slasher Osborne set it up as something he should be judged against and so we should all do that.

This was all so avoidable, and entirely predictable. Our incompetent, part-time Chancellor and his advisers should be removed from office and put out to pasture. Ed Balls was right.

I am very angry that this visitation of evil spirits had to be foisted on the British people. We deserve better. This really is time for the biggest U-turn in history - that's what failure brings. I really have no sympathy for the fools – Cameron, Osborne and Clegg especially – who talked the economy down by claiming it was bankrupt and falsely comparing the UK to Greece.

No more excuses.

 

"Slasher" Osborne has been proved wrong yet again. Photograph: Getty Images

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.