I was a strong Brexiteer. Now we must swallow our pride and think again

I’ve heard the argument that people want to get it over with and ‘just leave’. That’s reckless, stupid and could inflict incalculable damage. Matters can get an awful lot worse – more unstable and angrier and far more economically damaging – after we leave the EU. And I write this as someone who voted for Brexit.

Economic disaster

If we are honest, we Brexiteers have to admit that the economic arguments for Brexit have been destroyed by a series of shattering blows.

The leading Brexiteers argued during the 2016 campaign that the British economy had been held back by membership of the EU and would survive and flourish on its own. That argument is now unsustainable.

Investment-led growth has collapsed, and we need to stare that undeniable fact squarely in the face. Just look at the events of the early months of this year. They fill me – as they should fill every lover of this country – with anxiety and despair.

Nissan is abandoning its plans to build one of its flagship vehicles at its UK site in Sunderland. In January, the electronics giant Sony announced it was moving its headquarters from London to Amsterdam. Panasonic did the same in August last year.

The Japanese financial firms Nomura, Sumitomo Mitsui and Daiwa have all made clear their intention to move to other European cities. Honda is shutting its plant in Swindon. The news from Airbus (a particularly striking example of a successful pan-European manufacturing operation) is depressing.

The trickle of companies announcing plans to leave Britain has turned into a flood. It is becoming unbearably painful to read the financial news. For political reasons many are careful to blame factors other than Brexit. Do we believe them? Or is too much of a coincidence?

The most wounding insult for Brexiteers came with the announcement that Dyson is to shift its headquarters to Singapore. James Dyson is without a doubt an industrial genius. His insistence that Britain could flourish outside the European Union was held up again and again by Brexiteers. James Dyson was our trump card.

He insists that Brexit is nothing to do with his decision. Nevertheless, he joins a long list of rich men who made the case for Brexit but have no intention of living with the consequences of the 2016 referendum result.

Another case in point concerns Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire industrialist and Brexit apologist, who recently announced that he would be shifting his HQ out of Britain to save tax.

Investment banks in the City are compelling their employees to sign contracts committing them to move to European centres if required. Perhaps we commend them for putting the interests of their clients first, but what does this say about the difficulties financial services in Britain may face? Our economy would be lost without them. The City of London has been one of the motors of British post-war prosperity.

There have been decisions to continue to invest in Britain, and they are welcome. But they are easily outweighed by moves in the opposite direction. The reason for this mass exodus from Britain is easy to understand.

Easy access to Europe was the most important reason why so many important foreign companies chose to invest in this country over the past three or four decades. Investment has come in the shape of both manufacturing and services. The Brexit debate about the customs union vs the single market has revealed how blurred and narrow the distinction between the two has become. They are both massive sources of inward investment and job creation.

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