Spot the difference: Osborne yesterday v Treasury today

Osborne aspires for you all to stop examining his policies

The Help to Buy policy, announced in yesterday's Budget, is falling apart in the government's plans. It wasn't very good on the surface, and then it became clear that it might end up providing a subsidy to people buying second homes. The policy has now been dubbed the "spare home subsidy" by Ed Balls.

As a result, you can almost hear the wheels screeching as the Treasury decides to change course. Here's what Osborne said yesterday, announcing the policy:

The deposits demanded for a mortgage these days have put home ownership beyond the great majority who cannot turn to their parents for a contribution. That’s not just a blow to the most human of aspirations – it’s set back social mobility and it’s been hard for the construction industry. This Budget proposes to put that right – and put it right in a dramatic way.

And here's what the Tory Treasury account is tweeting today:

 

The problem is that, while the policy was introduced to make it easier for people to buy homes without their parents' help – as Osborne said – it will also have the uncomfortable side-effect of subsidising parents to buy homes for their children. Rather than changing the policy, the Treasury seems to have decided to change the spin instead. The real aspiration seems to be to make everyone just shut up about the details and go and have a £2.99 pint of beer – now just £2.98.

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
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What price would the UK pay to stop Brexit?

The EU could end Britain's budget rebate and demand that we join the euro and the Schengen zone.

Among any group of Remain politicians, discussion soon turns to the likelihood of stopping Brexit. After Theresa May's electoral humbling, and the troubled start to the negotiations, those who oppose EU withdrawal are increasingly optimistic.

“I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen,” Vince Cable, the new Liberal Democrat leader, said recently. A growing number, including those who refuse to comment publicly, are of the same view. 

But conversation rarely progresses to the potential consequences of halting Brexit. The assumption that the UK could simply retain the status quo is an unsafe one. Much hinges on whether Article 50 is unilaterally revocable (a matter Britain might have been wise to resolve before triggering withdrawal.) Should the UK require the approval of the EU27 to halt Brexit (as some lawyers believe), or be forced to reapply for membership, Brussels would extract a price. 

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, recently echoed French president Emmanuel Macron's declaration that “there is always a chance to reopen the door”. But he added: “Like Alice in Wonderland, not all the doors are the same. It will be a brand new door, with a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity.”

The UK's £5bn budget rebate, achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, has long been in the EU's sights. A demand to halt Brexit would provide the perfect pretext for its removal. 

As Verhofstadt's reference to “unity” implied, the UK's current opt-outs would also be threatened. At present, Britain (like Denmark) enjoys the right to retain its own currency and (like Ireland) an exemption from the passport-free Schengen travel zone. Were the UK to reapply for membership under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, it would be automatically required to join the euro and to open its borders.

During last year's Labour leadership election, Owen Smith was candid enough to admit as much. “Potentially,” he replied when asked whether he would accept membership of the euro and the Schengen zone as the price of continued EU membership (a stance that would not have served Labour well in the general election.)

But despite the daily discussion of thwarting Brexit, politicians are rarely confronted by such trade-offs. Remaining within or rejoining the EU, like leaving, is not a cost-free option (though it may be the best available.) Until anti-Brexiteers acknowledge as much, they are vulnerable to the very charge they level at their opponents: that they inhabit a fantasy world. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.