The most incredible thing about the budget isn’t what is in it, but what isn’t in it: There is absolutely no acknowledgement of the economic damage of Brexit, no help for fishermen or farmers, or anyone else whose livelihood was ruined by being dragged out of the European Union.
There is nothing to even vaguely acknowledge those sectors who have been devastated by Brexit. It’s as if Brexit is “done”, and doesn’t exist any more as an issue. Any of those awkward people suffering financial devastation from Brexit now just need to “move on”, right?
A Brexit-free budget.
So this Brexit-free budget shifts every scrap of attention to helping victims of Covid-19, or especially those victims of Covid-19 who are very public and very loud, ie. The Arts, whom the government need urgently to stay friends with, having wrecked their ability to tour Europe.
The Brexiphant in the room
The elephant in the room is so easy to ignore, isn’t it? Especially when there’s a bloody great virus to distract everybody from the elephant. But it isn’t an excuse. It can’t be an excuse.
Sunak has handed £400 million to The Arts to enable British culture to get back on its feet. Bravo, bravo. The show must go on, especially if it helps distract everyone from that pesky elephant. (Brexiphant?)
Large promises brushed under a very large carpet
And of course, the 350 million pound question, what about the NHS? What about anything to honour the government’s election promises? (Yes, we remember them) and the Vote Leave promises (yes, we remember them, too). The NHS deserves more than a clap, and it would be foolish to offer claps instead of clash at this point. Quick reminder:
Can anyone please explain what parts of the budget come close to fulfilling any of that? The headline of this particular budget needed to be “Pay Rise for Nurses”. It wasn’t.
The headline needed to be "Pay Rise for Nurses". It wasn't.
Don’t think about that stuff, think about pubs!
As if in counterbalance to that, we are being thrown diversions and distractions. Things to make us forget about all our problems and cheer about something else: Help for reopening struggling pubs, the awfully patronising “buy your boozer” idea is now being thrown at towns and villages for whom the chancellor seems to think we all live in the 1970’s. And money is being tossed at sports, too, continuing Boris Johnson’s apparent new obsession with using football to make everyone feel happy. (It won’t).
Spend, damn you, spend!
Oh, joy be unconfined, my cup runneth over, the limit for contactless spending is raised to £100. Isn’t that lovely! People who’ve lost their jobs will be delighted. When you combine this with the reopened pubs, it’s just what the doctor ordered for those people in a state of despair. Of course the raising of a contactless spending limit is little more than a desperate grasp at making spending easier, even for a few more pounds.
Flogging a dead house (yes, house)
95% Mortgages, in other words mortgages requiring a 5% deposit, are to make a “comeback”, which is amusing considering first time buyers are pretty much extinct due to house prices rocketing away from incomes under Tory rule. You could offer people 100% mortgages or even higher, and it still wouldn’t change the fact that large swathes of the younger population have long since ditched the dream of owning a house, and have settled into a lifetime of renting quite comfortably. This, I emphasise, was the case long before the pandemic and even long before Brexit.
Freeports are not free passes
The chancellor has also announced the creation of eight Freeports, including two in my region of the country. He hails these as wonderous job-creating initiatives that are “only possible because of Brexit”.
That’s rather like burning down your house on purpose then boasting that firefighters’ jobs are only possible because of your stupidity.
In reality a Freeport is a localised set of alternative import/export processes in place, because the stupidity of Brexit has slowed imports/exports to a crawl at vital shipping points. It is also a whisker away from admitting that being outside the Single Market / Customs Union is a dreadful error.