OPINION - Brexit four years on: going badly, and people are starting to notice

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

My favourite thing about cricket is the statistics. Nothing fills me with greater joy than when a commentator breathlessly reveals something like 'the batsmen have just recorded the highest-ever fifth-wicket partnership for England at Edgbaston against Sri Lanka.' You don't say?

(Full disclosure: the all-time best stat is that Sachin Tendulkar, one of the game's finest batters, has 201 international wickets to his name, but I digress.)

Actually, I digress for two reasons. First, because I wrote this morning's leader column on the fourth anniversary of Brexit already. And while it is dangerous to assume the leader writer's views necessarily chime perfectly with the finished product, on this occasion you have my blessing.

But second, because I took one for the team and read the Department for Business and Trade's "overview of Britain's Brexit successes over the last 4 years". Improbably, the report stretches to 24 pages, though just under half appear to be full-length pictures.

In the document – once you scroll past what amounts to secretary of state Kemi Badenoch's pitch for the Conservative Party leadership – you'll find this marvellous statistical morsel:

"Since the start of 2022, we have resolved barriers estimated to be worth over £15 billion to UK businesses over a five year period. In 2023 this was equivalent to removing around £1 million of trade barriers every single hour." (Italics mine).

Thanks to this work, pork exporters can benefit from newly agreed access to the Mexican market worth £18 million over five years. Now, I don't question the veracity of these claims, but they are notably specific, and don't quite seem to offset the economic analysis from practically every other quarter.

Take the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, which says that Brexit will reduce long-run productivity by 4 per cent relative to remaining in the EU, with exports and imports 15 per cent lower. Or Bloomberg, which last year put the sterling loss at £100 billion annually. Or a recent Cambridge Economics report commissioned by City Hall, which estimated the hit to the economy to be closer to £140 billion a year, leaving the average Briton nearly £2,000 worse off in 2023 and the average Londoner almost £3,400 worse off.

Little wonder, perhaps, that an exclusive Ipsos poll for the Evening Standard published today finds that 57 per cent of adults believe Brexit has been more of a failure, with 13 per cent saying more of a success. More notably still, 46 per cent say Brexit has hit their family’s standards of living, compared with 11 per cent stating it has improved it.

Long-time readers will know that the above sentiment does not equate to an endorsement of a rejoin referendum. Nor will it be easy for the UK to secure closer EU ties without doing the big and still politically unfeasible things such as rejoining the single market and customs union. Nonetheless, it is quite something that a plurality of the public both understand intellectually and feel intuitively that Brexit has made them poorer.

Kemi Badenoch crowing about Britain's pork exports to Mexico is the equivalent of the cricket commentator revelling in a record partnership at a certain ground against a specific opponent. In other words, what it doesn't tell you is the broader state of the game. In this case, that our team lost the match by the economic equivalent of an innings.

In the comment pages, Sarah Baxter says the problem for Joe Biden is that Donald Trump’s derangement is on brand – his fans expect him to sound and act crazy. While Business editor Jonathan Prynn notes that four years on, there's no sign of a Brexit dividend.

And finally, should you start surgically taping your mouth shut for a better night's sleep? Madeleine Spencer is our wellness guinea pig...

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