Monday, December 11, 2017

Britain should engage its “Blitz spirit” for the Brexit process and “stay calm and carry on” despite challenges ahead, a leading economist has said.

Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said there was a “bumpy road ahead” but urged Britain to remember Winston Churchill and government efforts to raise morale during the Second World War.

It came as the influential organisation published an explosive report claiming a second referendum to reverse Brexit would give a “significant” boost to the UK economy – a suggestion that was promptly dismissed by Downing Street.

The OECD’s annual report, published today, projected economic growth of just 1 per cent in 2018 and said the uncertainty of Brexit negotiations was likely to scupper chances of a free trade deal with the EU by 2019.

Chancellor Philip Hammond refused to take any questions at the launch event but pointedly reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to Brexit.

Mr Gurria, speaking at the launch, said: “[Brexit is] going to work, you are going to make it work.

“The only question is how long will it take? Are there costs attached? Yes there are, yes there will be.”

Referring to motivational posters created by the government during the war, the OECD boss said: “Stay the course. What was that thing Churchill said? Stay calm and carry on.

“This is like in the Blitz except fortunately, not the Blitz.”

Both sides should adopt a “whatever-it-takes” approach to the negotiations and the Brexit process should not be “wedded to any particular time frame”, Mr Gurria added.

He said European leaders were also keen to secure a good outcome from the talks and there was no need to rush the transition process.

Mr Hammond, who has faced intense pressure from his own party over his gloomy Brexit stance, told the event: “The Government is clear that we are leaving the European Union and we want a deep and special partnership with the European Union, maintaining close economic ties after we leave the EU.

“In doing so we know that by delivering a time-limited transition deal – avoiding an obstructive cliff-edge exit from the EU – we can provide greater certainty for businesses up and down the UK and across the European Union.”

Pro-EU groups and MPs seized on the OECD report, with Labour MP Wes Streeting claiming the findings were the “final nail in the coffin for the already long-buried notion that Brexit will benefit our economy”.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson said the case for reversing Brexit was “getting stronger by the day” and called for the public to have a say on the final deal.

She said: “Brexit has already caused the UK to slip from top to bottom of the international growth league for major economies.

“This will only get worse if the Government succeeds in dragging us out of the single market and customs union, or we end up crashing out of Europe without a deal.”

The analysis suggests a no-deal Brexit would wipe up to £40bn off UK economic growth by 2019.

A government spokesperson dismissed any suggestion of a further Brexit vote, saying: “We are leaving the EU and there will not be a second referendum.”