TORY minister Mel Stride was acknowledging the blindingly obvious, and doing so somewhat euphemistically, when he conceded last week that Brexit had created “frictions” that had impacted the UK economy.

And, were it not such a serious matter, his description of the negative effects of Brexit as “disbenefits” would have been almost amusing, if perhaps too bizarre to have been included in a script for venerable political comedy Yes Minister.

That said, obvious and underplaying the matter or not, his comments were something of a breath of fresh air relative to what usually emanates from Cabinet ministers on Brexit.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One programme if Brexit had had an impact on investment in the UK, Mr Stride said: “I think if you have a situation where you create frictions between yourself and your major trading partners I think you have to accept that that will have an impact.”

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Mr Stride’s Cabinet colleagues have, for the most part, steadfastly refused to acknowledge in any meaningful way the very real damage from the Tory hard Brexit folly.

Worse than that, they have on many occasions been more than content to clutch at often non-existent straws to claim Brexit is a good thing.

Mr Stride voted to remain in the European Union back in 2016 so perhaps that is a factor in him not following his Cabinet colleagues in burying his head in the sand on the effects of Brexit.

Then again, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt voted to remain in 2016, and seems since to have become a passionate convert to the Brexit cause and, crucially, one who now refuses to admit the damage that has and will be done. Liz Truss, the erstwhile prime minister, has been very much like Mr Hunt in terms of a jaw-dropping conversion.

Of course, we must keep in mind that Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mr Stride was only willing to concede so much on Brexit.

He did not, with his concessions last week, take the kind of realistic stance that former Tory MPs Kenneth Clarke and Dominic Grieve adopted back in 2019, when they tried to prevent a damaging hard Brexit for the UK.

Mr Stride said: “What I think we need to do now… is to maximise the benefits of the freedoms we now have, given that we’re not part of the European Union.”

He talked about how it was taking time to move from “the disbenefits” to the benefits of Brexit.

Mr Stride flagged the UK’s universities and skills base as strengths, and talked about new trade deals on which the Conservative Government was determined to capitalise.

He even declared: “I cannot argue now that there are not major opportunities.”

HeraldScotland: Minister Mel Stride, like many of his colleagues in government, voted to remain in the EUMinister Mel Stride, like many of his colleagues in government, voted to remain in the EU (Image: PA)

There are surely a few major problems with these lines of argument.

The Brexit vote was in June 2016, and any benefits remain conspicuous by their absence. People could surely be forgiven for thinking nearly seven years on that, if the benefits have not yet appeared, they are not coming. Playwright Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot comes to mind.

In stark contrast, the damage from Brexit has been plain to see, with exporters hit hard, a majorly detrimental impact on investment, and the exacerbation of the UK’s skills and labour shortage crisis.

The skills base has been damaged enormously already by the clampdown on immigration to the UK from countries in the EU and broader European Economic Area – make no bones about it. And the trade deals the UK Government has struck are a mixture of rollover arrangements, replicating what the country had anyway as part of the EU, and agreements such as those with Australia and New Zealand which produce absolutely tiny net benefits relative to what has been lost with Brexit.

Anyone who questions this should look at the UK Government’s own assessment of the net benefits of the new trade deals, and compare this with the estimated hit to UK gross domestic product from Brexit in forecasts published by the Theresa May administration in November 2018.

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The May government forecasts showed Brexit would, with an average free trade deal with the EU, result in UK GDP in 15 years’ time being 4.9% lower than if the country had stayed in the bloc if there were no change to migration arrangements. Or 6.7% worse on the basis of zero net inflow of workers from EEA countries. And there has, of course, been a clampdown on immigration.

The UK Government’s impact assessment of the Australia trade deal shows a boost to GDP from this of just 0.08% by 2035. The forecast New Zealand trade agreement benefits are even smaller than those projected from the Australia deal. The Department for International Trade has observed its “sensitivity analysis…suggests the estimated impact on long run GDP could vary between 0.02% and 0.03% (0.023% and 0.034% respectively, to three decimal places)”.

What is plain is that any tiny boost from the new trade deals, which have in any case rightly triggered fear among farmers and food producers in the UK, are absolutely dwarfed by what Mr Stride calls “disbenefits”.

It was left to others last week to hammer home the true impact of Brexit.

Jonathan Haskel, an external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, said the current “productivity penalty” for the UK arising from Brexit was 1.3% of annual GDP or about £29bn, roughly £1,000 per household. This is based on the impact of business investment having essentially flattened out after 2016, rather than growing at its pre-referendum rate. He flagged a projection that this penalty would rise to around 2.8% of GDP.

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He said a wave of investment “was stopped in its tracks in 2016”.

Mr Haskel added that the UK had “suffered much more” of a productivity slowdown than other large economies because of Brexit.

Mr Stride made his comments after Paul Drechsler, chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce UK, said Labour was now winning the argument on business.

Mr Drechsler, a former president of the Confederation of British Industry, meanwhile flagged his view that Brexit and the ensuing unsettled political atmosphere had reduced the willingness of firms to invest in the UK.

One big problem with the Brexit shambles is that, with the likes of Rishi Sunak continuing to paint Brexit as a great thing even as it wreaks havoc, other senior Tories surely have a role to play in making the Prime Minister and others see sense on what is actually happening.

Mr Stride deserves some credit for even acknowledging there has been damage, especially given the nature of the Government he is part of, but his contribution also highlights the extremely low chances of the Conservatives acting to mitigate the Brexit disaster in any meaningful way.

The UK Government would, after all, first have to wake up to and admit to the enormous damage that continues to unfold, as a prerequisite for actions to limit the scale of the woe.