AMID the first miserable economic indicators of the year, the minds of some hard-line Brexiters have, it appears, been focused elsewhere. These individuals have been dreaming of making Big Ben bong on Brexit Day, which now looks almost certain to be January 31. This fixation rather sums up the whole sorry, ideologically driven mess that is Brexit.

It seems these arch-Brexiters could hardly be further removed from the grim realities of what they are bringing upon us, in terms of the impact on the economy and society and the living standards of ordinary people. It is difficult to tell whether this is because they are in blissful ignorance or do not care or have actually persuaded themselves it is somehow going to be great. What is clear is what they really care about is “getting Brexit done”. This often seems to reflect a desire to feel more British.

For the moment, it seems their desire for Big Ben to bong may not be fulfilled. But who knows? It seems difficult in this climate to rule out money being spent on restoring the bong of Big Ben, which is under refurbishment, just for Brexit Day.

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Back in the world of important things, it is difficult to see anything at all to celebrate on the economic front.

Fears that the UK economy may have failed to grow at all in the fourth quarter of 2019 have been reinforced by a survey this week from the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply and IHS Markit revealing the key services sector stagnated in December. Manufacturing activity tumbled last month, with the pace of decline accelerating from November, according to CIPS.

And Bank of England Governor Mark Carney signalled yesterday that benchmark interest rates could be cut from their current level of 0.75 per cent if the UK’s economic weakness persists.

He declared the “main challenge facing the (Monetary Policy Committee) most recently has been to support the UK economy through Brexit”.

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It would be interesting to hear the arch-Brexiters’ viewpoint on this. After all, they seem to believe that Brexit is some kind of panacea. They might be well-advised to read Mr Carney’s speech.

Mr Carney yesterday summed up very well the immediate fallout from the Brexit vote in summer 2016 and what has happened to the economy since.

He said: “Prior to the referendum, the MPC expected that a vote to leave would prompt the exchange rate to fall sharply, inflation to rise above the 2% target, and growth to slow materially. That is exactly what happened.”

Mr Carney added: “Sterling dropped immediately following the referendum, the biggest recorded single-day move, and it subsequently traded around 15 to 20% below its late-2015 peak ahead of the referendum being called. Inflation rose well above the 2% target... an overshoot entirely due to the referendum-induced fall in sterling. UK growth dropped from the fastest to the slowest in the G7.”

Noting the impact on people, he added: “Households trimmed spending, as the effects of sterling’s fall showed up in higher prices in the shops and squeezed their real incomes.”

Mr Carney observed business investment had been cut back “more markedly... as companies understandably put projects on hold whilst they waited for greater clarity over the UK’s future trading relationships”. Businesses have had a long wait for clarity – one that looks set to go on for many more months and possibly years.

Summing up the current position, Mr Carney declared: “The pace of growth in the UK has slowed below potential, owing to the weaker external backdrop and a persistent drag from entrenched Brexit uncertainties. Unusually during an expansion, business investment has contracted in four out of the past seven quarters and is currently estimated to be just 1.5 per cent higher than at the time of the referendum.”

Certainly no justification for some kind of victorious bell-ringing there then.

There have been some fairly miserable festive trading updates from major high street players, which underline the fragility of consumer confidence. The British Retail Consortium said yesterday that total sales had in 2019 fallen for the first time in 25 years, with December notably weak.

Mr Carney said broader household spending growth had remained more resilient than business investment but observed: “Over the past year it too has slowed as uncertainty about the overall economic outlook has become more entrenched.”

Looking ahead, he noted “much hinges on the speed with which domestic confidence returns”. While citing “tentative signs” of global growth stabilising, a tight UK labour market and “generally firm” domestically generated inflation, Mr Carney observed: “There are downside risks from global growth and the possibility uncertainties over future trading relationships could remain entrenched. With relatively limited space to cut Bank Rate, if evidence builds that the weakness in activity could persist, risk management considerations would favour a relatively prompt response.”

In recent weeks, there has been some mood music from the business community about it being better to end Brexit uncertainty. If the uncertainty had been ended by Brexit not happening, that would be a very good thing. But the replacement of the uncertainty with the inevitably bad outcome of Brexit is something to lament.

In any case, the uncertainty remains huge. It is only the good option of staying in the European Union that has been taken off the table. And almost certainly the least-bad Brexit choice of staying in the European single market has also gone, given the determination of Boris Johnson and fellow arch-Brexiters to leave this bloc.

It remains to be seen what form of hard Brexit is delivered by the Conservatives. With only an 11-month transition period after January 31 for the Tories to secure an agreement on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the no-deal exit favoured by some arch-Brexiters is a very real danger.

The Brexiters envisage ringing a bell in celebration. But something sombre, akin to a death knell, would seem more apposite to mark the UK’s foolish decision to leave the EU and ultimately lose the free movement of people and frictionless trade needed to help breathe life into the struggling domestic economy over coming years and decades.