FOR any Brexiters trying to find straws at which to clutch, hoping against hope there might be something to justify their folly, the Office for Budget Responsibility’s latest economic and fiscal outlook surely had nothing to offer them.

It must have made uncomfortable reading for any Brexiters who cared to look at it with an open mind – a group likely to be at best a small minority of the Leave camp. The OBR’s latest thorough analysis of the situation highlights again major negative effects over the long term of the hard Brexit implemented by the UK Government. It also underlines the detrimental impacts which have already manifested themselves. The analysis flags the weakness of the recovery of UK exports from the pandemic effects, relative to the rebounds seen in other advanced economies. And it highlights the dampening impact of Brexit on immigration, and on the UK’s adult population numbers.

READ MORE: Brexit: Tory MP’s red tape bellyaching beggars belief: Ian McConnell

The OBR also makes plain its conclusion that the post-Brexit trade deals struck by the UK Government with countries outwith the European Union so far have no material impact on its forecasts about the effect of Brexit.

This would not have been surprising for anyone who has looked at the actual numbers in the UK Government’s own assessment of the impact of these new trade deals. However, it might come as at least a mild shock to those taken in by the sound and fury of the Johnson administration when these deals have been announced, as Cabinet ministers have seemed to play to the gallery of Brexiters.

And those convinced by UK Government ministers who have appeared intent on painting a picture of Blighty as free once again to be a colossus strutting the global trade arena might be surprised by at least one of the key observations of the OBR on Brexit.

The OBR, set up by former Tory chancellor George Osborne in 2010 to provide independent forecasting, declares the UK “appears to have become a less trade intensive economy”.

That is certainly not the picture the Brexiter-filled Johnson Cabinet is painting. And it is not what the Brexiters have been promising the public in the run-up to or in the years since the 2016 referendum.

In its latest economic and fiscal outlook, published last Wednesday to coincide with Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement, the OBR says: “With little evidence to suggest that we revise our assumption about the negative effect of Brexit on UK trade flows, we continue to forecast little growth in export and import volumes and a fall in the trade intensity of the economy over the medium term.

“The financial crisis, Brexit and the pandemic are all expected to have long-term consequences for potential output, a key determinant of medium-term fiscal prospects.”

These comments highlight the effect of Brexit over many years.

Looking at what has already happened, the OBR says: “The recovery in UK trade has also been slow relative to advanced economies as total advanced economy goods exports already exceed pre-pandemic levels by three per cent, suggesting that Brexit may have been a factor.”

The comparisons with other countries in the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations are stark.

READ MORE: Lord Frost sees a ‘brilliant’ Brexit job as others pay for folly: Ian McConnell

The OBR observes: “Comparing our recent overall trade performance with other advanced economies suggests that the UK saw a similar collapse in exports as other countries at the start of the pandemic but has since missed out on much of the recovery in global trade. UK and aggregate advanced economy goods export volumes fell by around 20 per cent during the initial wave of the pandemic in 2020. But by the fourth quarter of 2021 total advanced economy trade volumes had rebounded to three per cent above their pre-pandemic levels while UK exports remain around 12 per cent below. The UK therefore appears to have become a less trade intensive economy, with trade as a share of GDP (gross domestic product) falling 12 per cent since 2019, two and a half times more than in any other G7 country.”

Over the long term, the OBR continues to forecast a very large negative Brexit effect on the UK economy, with nothing it has seen so far from the UK Government on new trade deals affecting its prediction materially.

The OBR says: “Our forecast continues to assume that leaving the EU will result in the UK’s total imports and exports being 15 per cent lower than had the UK remained a member state. This fall in the trade intensity of UK output is likely to reduce the level of potential productivity, though the size of this effect is uncertain; we assume productivity is ultimately four per cent lower after a 15-year period. None of the new free-trade agreements (FTAs) or other regulatory changes announced so far would be sufficient to have a material impact on our forecast.”

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Brexit could have taken many forms. Cheshire Cat Boris Johnson chose this one

It adds: “While additional trade with other [countries] could offset some of the decline in trade with the EU, none of the agreements concluded to date are of a sufficient scale to have a material impact on our forecast. The Government’s own estimate of the economic impact of the free-trade agreement with Australia, the first to be concluded with a country that does not have a similar arrangement with the EU, is that it would raise total UK exports by 0.4 per cent, imports by 0.4 per cent and the level of GDP by only 0.1 per cent over 15 years.”

Referring to the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the OBR declares: “In summary, there is little in the data since the TCA was implemented to suggest the assumption of a 15 per cent reduction in trade intensity as a result of Brexit is no longer a central estimate.”

The OBR analyses “the seemingly paradoxical weakness in UK imports from the EU”.

It adds: “This could partly relate to rising prices of energy imports, which are largely sourced from outside the EU. Some of the apparent substitution between EU and non-EU imports might also reflect changes in reporting trade flows or goods that always originated outside the EU no longer passing through the EU on their way to the UK.”

Nothing for the Brexiters to cheer here.

The OBR adds: “Brexit-related effects are likely to include the fact that the UK is a relatively small market for individual EU exporters, so it may not be worth the cost of additional paperwork to continue to export to the UK. One survey shortly after the end of the transition period found that 17 per cent of German companies had stopped exporting to the UK, at least temporarily. Global supply bottlenecks are likely to have contributed to the weakness in some EU imports, with machinery and transport equipment accounting for around half of the import shortfall at the end of 2021 compared to 2019 levels. Stockpiling likely also boosted EU imports in 2019 before the UK’s departure from the EU, though imports from the EU are still much lower than even pre-referendum levels.”

This observation about the relative size of the UK market for individual EU exporters is another that shines a light on a reality in stark contrast to the picture painted by Brexiters.

And the point that it “may not be worth the cost of additional paperwork to continue to export to the UK” and the revelation from the survey of German companies highlight the supply-chain difficulties for companies in the UK.

Looking ahead, the OBR says: “With little to suggest that our previous assumption about the effect of Brexit on trade flows is biased one way or the other, we continue to forecast weak growth in exports and imports in the medium term.”

The forecasts on population make dismal reading and again here Brexit is playing a significant part.

The OBR says: “Our increased estimate of scarring to the adult population since October is partly because we now assume that none of the 170,000 shortfall in net migration during the pandemic is made up over our forecast period, whereas in October we assumed that half (85,000) of the shortfall would be made up.

“This change has been driven by emerging evidence that most of the shortfall in net migration in 2020 was due to a fall in immigration rather than an increase in emigration, and is therefore less likely to be recovered. This is because it seems less likely that forgone inward migrants will choose to come to the UK at a later date – especially in light of the post-Brexit migration regime that took effect in January 2021 – than individuals who left the UK at the start of the pandemic and are more likely to have a legal right to return.”

Mr Sunak made a big deal last Wednesday of his view that the Conservatives could be trusted when it came to the public finances.

He and his Cabinet colleagues might want to think again about the impact of Brexit on tax revenues, as outlined by the OBR in its analysis: “Productivity growth is the most important driver of all the major tax bases. And while higher energy prices represent the latest risk to medium-term productivity, risks to the economic outlook from the unusually weak productivity growth that followed the financial crisis, the implications of Brexit for trade intensity and productivity, and the degree of scarring imparted by the pandemic have not gone away.”

The OBR’s analysis of Brexit lays out the inevitable effects of the folly. These are huge and permanent but unlikely to be acknowledged by Boris Johnson and his Brexit-supporting Cabinet.