The FT’s economics editor had a simple question last year. How bad would things have to get after a vote for Brexit for Leavers to regret the outcome?
He asked the question at an Economists for Brexit press conference, and didn’t get much of an answer.
The event’s chair tried to turn the question back on him, asking what it would take for the Remain-backing journalist to admit their own side a failure.
Others on the panel rejected the premise entirely, claiming that any bad Brexit would be the fault of those who implemented bad policies, and not voters.
But these attempts to evade the question were merely exercises in missing the point. A vote for Brexit could send the UK down a path that is unpalatable to many Leavers.
This week’s general election results seemed to confirm that, and in their wake, I hope Brexit backers will pay this question more serious attention.
So-called “liberal leavers” said they wanted a Brexit that allowed for a more free market Britain, unshackled by EU constraints. That does not seem like an option.
Instead, the Brexit vote has delivered us the economically interventionist May, and now the possibility of a Corbyn-led government looks stronger than ever.
Corbyn’s Labour achieved its results despite a cloud of negativity. Might voters be more emboldened to support his party at the next opportunity?
Perhaps within a year, we will have another vote, and another chance of a left wing Labour government in power. Is that an outcome that free market Leavers wanted?
While many in this group were cynical about the idea a Brexit would reduce growth through reduced trade, they tend to be more convinced that left wing governance is economically destructive.
How many years of anti-growth policies would it take for Brexit not to be worth it? How large would the permanent losses to living standards need to be for the Leavers to accept their efforts were fruitless?
Maybe things won’t get that bad, and Brexit will still make the UK better off, despite the short term costs. Clearly, I hope that is the case.
But it is worth pondering the alternative. The UK’s trajectory looks far bleaker than it did on June 22.
The country could become much more hostile to business, and the wider economy may well underperform for years.
So I’ll repeat the question: How bad does it have to get?