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Brexit Boom
September 2017

Let us start with employment. In the year to the three-month period from March to May employment increased in the UK by 324,000 people from 31,686,000 to 32,010,000. Yes, it increased. It did not go down, as the pro-Remain politicos and pundits said it would. Moreover, the rise in employment was higher in this 12-month period than on average (266,000) in the 25 years from 1992, which is the first year reported for this series in the present ONS database. Since the referendum, not only have jobs been created, but the rate of job creation has been better than normal over the last generation.

What about unemployment? The Brexit pessimists might have a case of sorts if the above-normal rate of job creation had occurred in a slack labour market, with many disappointed job-seekers. But that is not the reality at all. On the contrary, the unemployment rate reported in the July 12 ONS release was 4.5 per cent. This was the lowest — repeat, the lowest — in the 25 years for the unemployment rate series in the ONS database, as that database is currently available. The statistics on vacancies tell the same story. As is well-known, the official vacancies figure understates employment opportunities in the British labour market, but the figure is still a valid indicator of job availability. Here the official series is shorter than for employment and unemployment, and starts in 2001. Anyhow, vacancies in April-June this year stood at 774,000, just a smidgeon (4,000) down on the previous month, but the totals for the two months were the highest in the 16-year period under review.

Now that more than a year has passed since the Brexit vote, it does make sense to recall statements made in the debate, and to check who has been right and wrong. Has even a fraction of the three million jobs allegedly at risk actually disappeared in practice? We may be only a year into Wolf’s “a year or two or three”, but can a “real” job-destroying recession be found in the official record? Has the start of Brexit negotiations led to the “isolation” of Britain, and hence to heavy costs in jobs, livelihoods and growth? The answer to all three questions is “no”.

The arguments between the Leavers and Remainers are not settled yet. Perhaps a decade of post-2016 (or post-2019) experience and information is needed. But the first round in the debate about jobs — so prominent in the pro-EU campaign — has gone, clearly and decisively, to the Leavers. Will the EU’s supporters have the courtesy to acknowledge that? And can we have less from Martin Wolf and others about Brexiteers’ supposed “mendacity”?
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