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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
John Crace

Given a chance to cheer Tories’ economic failure, Hunt is nowhere to be seen

Jeremy Hunt
Best just to do nothing: Jeremy Hunt. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock

Hang out the flags. Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the UK leaving the EU. Glory day. Correction. Glory days. What we always wanted. Well, some of us. Increasingly just a few of us.

Now is not the time for declinism. As Jeremy Hunt recently told us in his Bloomberg speech, we should stop talking the UK down. People like the banker and former Conservative donor Guy Hands should stop being so bloody miserable and calling Brexit an unmitigated disaster and start cheering its triumphs. So GDP is down 4%. Big deal. It could so easily have been 5 or 6%. Why can’t people focus on that for a change?

In any case, making the country poorer was a symbol of success. A sign that we weren’t just influenced by money. We had a higher calling. You couldn’t put a price on sovereignty. And why were people making such a fuss about the NHS being at crisis point now that loads of its staff had gone back to their home countries in the EU? Surely it was far better for there to be fewer nurses, provided they were all British? And stop being so morbid and moaning that your mother died on a hospital trolley. Celebrate the fact that your dad is still alive. Food prices going up? Excellent news. Hopefully that will put a stop to childhood obesity.

What we should be doing is celebrating our exceptionalism. Brexit was our chance to do things differently. So why waste time trying to replicate the success of the EU? Rather, we should focus our attention away from trade. When Bloomberg said the UK would be £100bn worse off each year, that should be acknowledged as an achievement. What was needed were more trade deals like the one with Australia that would make almost no difference to GDP in the next 12 years. That was the kind of futility to which the country should be aspiring. Bring on the Darwin award. The recognition that Britain had elected to make itself extinct.

The International Monetary Fund chose to mark Brexit day by publishing a report that said the UK was the only country in the G7 whose economy would shrink this year. Worse even than Russia, and we weren’t even hit by sanctions or engaged in a major war. You’d have thought this level of failure would have been something the chancellor would have been only too enthusiastic to shout from the rooftops. The culmination of 13 years of hard work by the Tory party.

But Hunt was nowhere to be seen. He certainly wasn’t doing anything about the economy. Why mend something if it’s already smashed to pieces? And he definitely wasn’t talking to any of the unions before the biggest day of strikes in decades. What was the point of doing anything when you couldn’t think of anything useful to say. Best just to do nothing. The government’s new mantra.

Which meant that it was left to the junior Treasury minister James Cartlidge to answer the urgent question on the government’s response to the IMF report. Lovely Cuddly James. Determined not to look like a useful idiot who had been sent out on a suicide mission. Trying to pass himself off as someone who had something close to free will. Dream on. So sweet.

Cuddly James checked his notes and looked up hesitantly. Things really weren’t that bad. The government and the IMF had both noticed that inflation was a problem. So that was something. We were on the right track. And because we were doing so badly now, it would be almost impossible for us to have a lower rate of growth than Germany and France next year. Would that do?

It wouldn’t. Labour’s Rachel Reeves spelled out a few home truths. There was no point in mentioning the pandemic and Ukraine, as every other country had to deal with them too. The fact was that we were the worst of the worst. People looked round and couldn’t see one thing that worked better now than 13 years ago. And the Tories knew that. Which is why Cuddly James had been sent out to die on his feet and why only about six Tory backbenchers were in the chamber. When you’re down to Edward Leigh and Michael Fabricant, you’ve hit the dregs.

Cartlidge looked bemused. He had been told he would be on his own, so to find he had half a dozen supporters was untold riches. And he could only agree with the Nice but Dim Greg Clark, who pointed out that IMF forecasts could be wrong. Indeed. They could be even worse. And to the Labour and Scottish National party MPs who wondered whether Britain’s bottom-of-the-table performance might be related to leaving the EU, he said they had a very narrow view of what constituted a Brexit bonus. Widen your horizons.

Still, there was one person out to unashamedly celebrate Brexit day. And that was Matt Hancock. He did so in his unique way. By celebrating his own idiocy. The man is now so half-witted, he’s almost a national treasure. A man so totally unself-aware he thinks people ask for selfies because they admire him. Not because they think he’s a twat.

Matt was up against Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid. No contest. First he tried to claim he had been massively generous in donating £10,000 of his £330,000 I’m a Celebrity fee to charity. “It wasn’t about the money,” he sobbed. Clearly. Then he tried to claim that being caught groping Gina wasn’t a breach of the law. It was like this. He and Gina were so in love that they were technically only one person. We should enjoy Hancock while we still can. We won’t see his like again.

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