It was with a degree of dismay that we learned this week that Brexit trade talks are to continue despite Europe-wide coronavirus lockdown.
With death tolls on the rise on both sides of the Channel the sense of self-indulgence, as Brian Cox put it, was palpable.
“Why would we want to impose a second, voluntary shock on the country in early 2021?”, he asked, and it’s easy to sympathise with his plight.
Economic impact of coronavirus
Coronavirus is expected to plunge the global economy into a deep recession, a fate few countries will manage to avoid as key industries screech to a halt.
Closer to home Britain’s already sluggish economic performance will be made much worse by the virus.
Pantheon Macroeconomics has warned that UK growth could fall by 1.5 per cent between January and March before plummeting by 13 per cent in the following quarter, which to Professor Cox’s point, makes it all the more perplexing as to why you would want to inflict more misery.
Second voluntary shock
The latest Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts models for 5.2 per cent loss of potential GDP over 15 years if a “typical” free trade agreement was struck.
The watchdog said that Britain had already lost 2 per cent of potential output since the 2016 Leave vote with a further 3.2 per cent to come, blaming rising trade friction, restrictions on migration and red tape.
But those figures will likely get buried from here on thanks to the catastrophic impact of coronavirus.
The pandemic, for all of its ills, could hand Brexiteers a ‘get out of jail free’ card just as the proverbial excrement was about to hit the fan.
When the economy tanks, which it invariably will, it will not be down to the ill-judged and self-defeating impact of Brexit but the deadly virus, they will parrot.
Prepare for a slow and prolonged recovery. We have forewarned.