No, Daily Mail, Brexit Britain is not “booming”

The reality is far from a jobs paradise triggered by the referendum.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Today’s Daily Mail is taking a rare swipe at Remainers, dismissing the fears of “Remain doom-mongers” who “talk down” the economy.

“BREXIT BRITAIN’S BOOMING!” exclaims its front page, alongside a story making all sorts of cheery claims about the UK’s financial situation.


Here’s what it’s celebrating – versus the reality.

More Britons are in work than ever

We now have the highest level of employment since records began in 1971. The UK’s employment rate has risen by 0.4 points since the last quarter to 75.6 per cent. There’s been an increase of 197,000 jobs on the previous quarter – and the majority of them are full-time.

This is strong jobs growth, and the Mail is right that it’s quite some distance from the former chancellor George Osborne’s prediction when campaigning against Brexit in 2016 that Britain would face up to 820,000 job losses.

But the paper asserts more Britons are in work “than before the referendum”. Well, yes. But the employment rate has been increasing since 2012 – before the EU referendum was even announced – according to the Office for National Statistics, which released the data: “The employment rates for people, men and women have been generally increasing since early 2012.”

The rise in jobs has also not been matched by output. Productivity has sharply fallen: output per hour worked fell by 0.5 per cent in the first three months of 2018, and has only increased by 0.2 per cent over the past decade.

So the number of hours worked has grown without a corresponding increase in economic growth – growth collapsed to just 0.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2018.

Pay is rising

Average weekly earnings in Britain are up 2.6 per cent compared with a year ago. “The biggest rise since 2015 and ahead of inflation”, celebrated the Mail.

But this is slower than the growth rate between December 2016 – February 2017 and December 2017 – February 2018 (which was 2.8 per cent). And the current average weekly total pay at £489 a week is still £33 lower than the peak of £522 a week, recorded in February 2008.

And when you adjust the figures for consumer price inflation, between January-March 2017 and January-March 2018, total pay for employees in Great Britain was unchanged.

More EU citizens are working here

Uncharacteristically, the Mail is positive about the prospect of EU migrants getting jobs, reporting that the number of European Union citizens – and non-EU migrants – working in Britain has increased (almost 2.37 million EU citizens had jobs in March – 155,000 more than in early 2016).

But again the claim this employment has increased in the past two years, since the referendum, is misleading. As the Financial Times points out, the current employment growth has been exclusively driven by UK nationals: the number of EU citizens in employment has actually fallen by 1.2 per cent.

The ONS found that the total EU workforce in Britain has fallen by 28,000 over the last year – the first annual decrease since early 2010, suggesting Brexit is a factor.

“Nearly two years after the Brexit vote, we can now see that the number of citizens from other European Union countries working in Britain has fallen,” reports the Guardian, warning about the threat this poses to the NHS and social care.

There was a particularly stark drop in workers from eastern European countries who joined the EU in 2004, such as Poland: a 9.1 per cent fall in the past year – the biggest year-on-year fall since records began in 1997.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.