GDP almost returns to the level it was before Osborne's double-dip

The effects of the second recession have been reversed by 1 per cent growth this quarter.

Cameron's claim yesterday that "the good news will keep coming", while (probably) a mild abuse of his privilege in having seen the GDP figures early, was proved true today. Sort of.

The good news is that we are out of recession; the economy grew by 1.0 per cent over the last quarter. Indeed, given the revisions to previous quarters, that's enough to cancel out the contraction from the quarter before. That is good news, at least insofar as not leaving recession would be very bad indeed.

The bad news is that we are emphatically not out of the doldrums yet. The economy may have recovered from the second, austerity-led recession, but it leaves over-all growth for the last four quarters almost exactly flat (in fact, the economy is still 0.1 per cent smaller than it was at the end of Q3 2011).

As for the economy finally regrowing back to the size it was in 2008, well, there's a long way to go. The classic NIESR graph details just how big the output gap is:

Interestingly, the ONS refused to quantify the effect of the Olympics over all on the GDP figures, but did say that the effect of ticket sales particularly was likely to be a significant part of the growth. Owing to the way the statistics are counted, those sales are not counted for the quarter in which they are made, but the quarter in which they are used. There was, in effect, a transfer of consumption from mid-2011 to mid-2012, and that can't have failed to have an effect. The statistical bulletin reads:

Tickets for the Olympics were sold in tranches through 2011 and 2012 but, in accordance with national accounts principles, these have been allocated to the third quarter, when the output actually occurred. The impact of the ticket sales on GDP can be clearly seen in the lower level data for sports activities, which is part of the Government and other services aggregate in Table B1. Ticket sales were estimated to have increased GDP in the quarter by about 0.2 percentage points. (Emphasis mine)

The agency also urged commentators to look at the growth figures for a longer period than the quarter-on-quarter releases. Coming so soon after Cameron's no-quite-leak, it's hard not to read that response as putting the Prime Minister in his place.

"This may be a good quarter, Mr Cameron, but don't celebrate just yet."

 

George Osborne. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.