Osbornomics, part 94

George, say after me: Britain is not Portugal (or Greece or Ireland).

One thing you can say about George Osborne is that he's consistent (though of course consistency, as Emerson put it, is the "hobgoblin of little minds"). Since well before the general election last year, Osborne has been conjuring the spectre of Greece and its debt crisis to justify the Conservatives' accelerated deficit reduction programme. Sometimes the mantra varies slightly and Osborne adduces Portugal as an example, rather than Greece.

And he was at it again on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 this morning, saying that Britain enjoys "German interest rates despite a Portuguese deficit" because of the government's austerity measures. But, as my colleague George Eaton pointed out last month when the Chancellor was ruminating on Portugal's request for an EU bailout, "Britain, unlike Portugal, Greece and Ireland, can afford to meet its debts over a sustained period of time (even under his plans, debt will be 68.8 per cent of GDP in 2014-2015)."

To his credit, Marr reminded Osborne that demand in the British economy remains sluggish, a point that George (Eaton not Osborne) also made:

There is, however, one big similarity between Portugal and the UK. They were both among just five EU countries to suffer negative growth in the final quarter of 2010 (the others were Greece, Ireland and Denmark) . . . The Chancellor may claim that Labour lacks a "credible deficit reduction plan" but, without growth, so does he.

And the 0.5 per cent GDP growth recorded in the first quarter of 2011 didn't alter the picture: it merely partly corrected a contraction of the same size in the previous quarter.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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