George Osborne is fond of blaming the eurozone crisis for Britain’s economic woes (he recently claimed that the crisis had “killed off” growth in the UK) , so it’s worth noting that, unlike the UK, the euro’s two largest members – Germany and France – aren’t in recession. While the British economy contracted by 0.7 per cent in the second quarter of this year, Eurostat figures out today showed that the French economy remained flat, while Germany grew by 0.3 per cent. In the previous quarter, Britain shrunk by 0.5 per cent, while Germany grew by 0.5 per cent and France stagnated.
Of course, since much of our trade is with the eurozone, its lack of growth (it collectively shrank by 0.2 per cent in Q2), doesn’t help. But as even Tory MPs concede, it is some exaggeration to claim it “killed off” our recovery. The Chancellor accomplished that all by himself. It was his absurd claim that the UK was on “the brink of bankruptcy” and his premature austerity measures, most notably the 2.5 point rise in VAT, that destroyed confidence and strangled growth. With the exception of Italy, Britain is the only G20 country to have suffered a double-dip recession.
At this moment, contrary to Osborne, Britain should actually be profiting from the eurozone crisis. With investors ever more reluctant to lend to eurozone countries, the UK can afford to borrow at the lowest interest rates for 300 years. We are, as Osborne has said many times, a “safe haven”. Yet the Chancellor appears determined not to take advantage of this fact. He has continually refused to borrow for growth (in the form of tax cuts and higher infrastructure spending), despite little evidence that this would lead to a rise in British gilt yields. It is only Osborne’s political pride that is preventing a change of direction. Borrowing for growth would be a tacit admission that his nemesis, Ed Balls, was right and that he was wrong. Until the Chancellor backs down, we will all collectively pay for his stubbornness.