by Martin Odoni

Back in August, news broke that the UK economy shrank during the second quarter of 2019, raising fears of a full-on recession. (The academic definition of a ‘recession’ is two consecutive quarters of shrinkage.) News released over the weekend is marginally happier, as the outright recession was avoided thanks to an anaemic burst of growth for quarter 3 of 0.3%. Better than another contraction, but not by much. The overall growth for the whole year is about 1%, the lowest in a decade.

The Tories will doubtless go on a victory lap during the current General Election campaign over this, but they really should not. GDP on its own is not a good measure of an economy’s health anyway. But even if it were, this little swelling in Gross Domestic Product is, as I say, pretty sterile; a solid quarter of growth is usually somewhere in the region of 0.8%. But also, most of the growth is the result of a strong July, when the shambolic administration of Boris Johnson was not even in office yet, let alone in a shape adequate to effect substantial economic improvement.

Moreover, the main cause of British economic misery since 2016 has been Brexit. Certainly not the only one. Ongoing Austerity and an unhappy international outlook are causing de-stimulating pain as well. But even so, the uncertainty caused by Brexit keeps directly hurting UK markets. Most particularly, markets always react very badly every time the likelihood of the UK leaving the European Union without a severance deal increases, but rally whenever chances of a deal improve.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has not made any secret of his fondness for the prospect of No-Deal Brexit. He certainly shows little more than a ‘going-through-the-motions’ degree of urgency in trying to secure an acceptable deal, often coming up with absurd proposals that appear designed to be rejected. When he finally claimed to have gained a deal last month, it was largely just a rehash of Theresa May’s previous agreement, only with the so-called ‘backstop’ – worded so badly that it was one of its most objectionable details – turned into a permanent feature. It was almost inevitable it would fail to pass the House of Commons once again.

In short, Johnson is not a source of happy news on the Brexit front. And from that, given that Brexit is the source of so much unhappy economic news, it is quite clear that the slightly good GDP news has nothing to do with Johnson. On the contrary, little bursts of economic health only happen when Johnson’s plans go wrong.


The wizard of economics reveals his most pertinent incantation.

So when the Tories, or indeed the BBC, try to associate the avoidance of a recession with some kind of ‘economic wizardry’ in the Johnson administration, they will think you are gullible enough to believe it.

Please prove them wrong.