BORIS Johnson declared on Christmas Eve, as he confirmed the UK’s hard Brexit, that the Conservative Government had “resolved a question that has bedevilled our politics for decades”.

This is nonsense.

What the Johnson Government has in fact done is ensure households and businesses are bedevilled in coming years and decades by the very damaging effects of the Brexit folly.

Mr Johnson’s intensely irritating claim, while utter rubbish, seems typical of the blinkered view of so many Tory arch-Brexiters, who see things only from their own perspective.

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The UK’s relationship with the European Union has certainly been something that has divided the Conservative Party over decades. However, this infighting, exploited by Nigel Farage first through the UK Independence Party and then the Brexit Party, should never have been made the problem of households and businesses.

We should never have got to the stage where consumers and businesses are having to pay the price for the bitter fruits of this internal Tory squabbling, in terms of the enormous damage to the economy and living standards arising from years of uncertainty and now a hard Brexit and all that brings.

The Tories have been regarded traditionally as the party of business. The reasons for this are far from obvious given their dismal track record on the economy. However, regardless of why they have been regarded in this way, there is no doubt the Brexit foolishness of the Boris Johnson Government makes it an administration that it most definitely bad for business, the economy and living standards.

There is no doubt about this. Never mind Mr Johnson’s speech on Christmas Eve claiming some sort of victory in securing the narrowest of free trade deals with the EU – just look back at those forecasts drawn up by the Theresa May government in 2018 on the actual impact of leaving the single market.

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What the May government forecasts show is that Brexit would on the basis of an average free trade deal with the EU result in UK gross domestic product in 15 years’ time being 4.9% or 6.7% lower than if the country had remained a member of the powerful bloc, on respective assumptions of no change to migration arrangements or zero net inflow of workers from European Economic Area countries. Of course, the Tories are clamping down on immigration with their ideological Brexit, so the no change to migration arrangements scenario is sadly over-optimistic. The respective no-deal exit impacts on UK GDP on a 15-year view would have been 7.7% or 9.3% under the no change to migration arrangements and zero net inflow scenarios, according to the forecasts.

So we should be clear that, while not as utterly dire as a no-deal departure, Mr Johnson’s narrow trade deal still results in enormous damage to the UK relative to it having remained within the single market. The UK has, since its technical Brexit on January 31, been able to remain in the single market because of the transition period, which runs until December 31. Staying in the single market would of course have been a long-term option had the Conservatives not chosen under Mr Johnson and Mrs May to rule out this least-damaging form of Brexit.

Just to put those big numbers on economic damage into perspective, the much-vaunted free trade deal the Conservative Government wants to do with the US would, according to the Johnson administration’s own estimates, add 0.16% at most to UK GDP on a 15-year horizon.

It was former prime minister David Cameron, of course, who decided to hold a referendum on EU membership in the first place, seemingly to try to end squabbling over Europe which might have bedevilled the Conservative Party but in absolutely no way the country as a whole.

This proved to be an error of judgement. With a lamentable amount of xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment whipped up in the run-up to the 2016 referendum, Mr Cameron lost the Brexit vote and resigned. And the referendum and its aftermath have ensured that the toxic division over Europe within the Conservative Party has seeped out to the country as a whole, with many of those who voted for Brexit having been hoodwinked by right-wing players into believing their troubles had not been caused by years of Conservative austerity but by the EU.

As Mr Johnson marketed a pig-in-a-poke trade agreement to the UK public on Christmas Eve, portraying as a good thing the narrow deal which is massively economically damaging relative to what the UK has had, he declared: “We have also today resolved a question that has bedevilled our politics for decades. And it is up to us all together as a newly and truly independent nation to realise the immensity of this moment and to make the most of it.”

We have dealt with the “bedevilled” fallacy. The “newly and truly independent nation” is at least as ridiculous as any painting of a picture that the European question has bedevilled the politics of the UK at large, as opposed to having been the Tory issue that it has, given Britain’s sovereignty was never in doubt as part of the EU.

It is worth saying in this context that it has been good to hear more moderate Tory voices having come to the fore during the whole Brexit saga to highlight the damage being done by pursuing this course. Of course, these voices are in stark contrast to the hardline fayre from the current Cabinet, packed with arch-Brexiters including Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has celebrated the Tory clampdown on immigration noisily.

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Among these more moderate voices have been erstwhile chancellor Lord Clarke and former prime minister Sir John Major.

And Lord Heseltine, former president of the board of trade, this week urged MPs and peers to abstain when voting on a Brexit deal he warns will cause “lasting damage” to the UK.

It was interesting to hear Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove, an arch-Brexiter, admit in the wake of the deal trumpeted by Mr Johnson that there would be “bumpy moments” and “some disruption” when the UK leaves the single market on December 31.

This is obviously a ridiculously euphemistic description of what lies ahead. That said, it was nevertheless interesting to hear Mr Gove having to sound warnings to the public, about taking out comprehensive travel insurance for European trips and checking mobile phone providers’ roaming charges, and to businesses that time is “very short” to prepare.

This Government has ensured the time for businesses and households to prepare is very short. It was not until last week, after all, that we found out whether the UK was going to be leaving the single market with no deal or with the narrow trade agreement, which excludes the key services sector, that the Johnson Government was pursuing and has now sealed with the EU.

Of course, the disruption and bumps flagged by Mr Gove are just the tip of the iceberg.

There looks to be alarming scope in the Johnson administration’s deal with the EU for UK workers’ rights to be reduced very significantly after December 31. The Conservatives have something of a track record when it comes to dismantling employment rights so we must not underestimate the gravity of this situation. It is of course absolutely crucial from the perspective of a civilised society that workers’ rights are protected. This is also important from an economic perspective – if people are treated well in their employment and have a rational basis for feeling secure and valued in their jobs, they will be more comfortable spending money.

The Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank, publishing its initial analysis of the Christmas Eve Brexit deal unveiled by the Prime Minister, said: “The deal leaves workers’ rights and environmental protections at serious risk of erosion. This is because the new process agreed for safeguarding a ‘level playing field’ between UK and EU businesses after Brexit sets such a high bar for proof that key elements are likely to be enforced only rarely.”

The May government forecasts highlight the scale of the damage which will be done over years and decades by the UK losing the massive economic benefits of free movement of people to and from the EU and with the ending of truly frictionless trade with the world’s largest free trade bloc.

This is the actual “immensity” of the moment. It is not a development to make the most of, but rather something that will cause huge damage.

Mr Johnson said of the Brexit push on Christmas Eve: “There have been plenty of people who have told us that the challenges of the Covid pandemic have made this work impossible and that we should extend the transition period and incur yet more delay. And I rejected that approach precisely because beating Covid is our number one national priority and I wanted to end any extra uncertainty and to give this country the best possible chance of bouncing back strongly next year.”

How on earth does this stack up? There was an offer from the EU to extend the transition period, allowing the UK to put off its departure from the single market amid the pandemic.

We can see that leaving the single market under any scenario causes huge economic damage. So why would you wilfully compound the economic woes arising from the coronavirus pandemic with further damage from December 31 from the utter stupidity of this Tory Brexit?