Brexit fears haven’t come true – and it’s possible they never will

A lot of bad things were predicted to happen if Britain voted to leave the EU. They haven’t happened yet – but a lot of people seem to think they have.


I saw this sign on a visit to Culross on Sunday (if you are ever in Fife, do visit it's lovely). It irritated me, so I photographed it and posted it on Twitter with the comment "Dodgy Brexit maths".

The pushback was pretty quick. But the interesting bit was the part of the sign everyone took as being the point. I was subjected to endless comments from followers explaining to me that 33.3% would indeed represent 50% of 66.6%. But the bit that bothered me wasn't that (I'm OK with maths), it was the idea that your "usable salaries are being cut by more than 33.3%" as a result of Brexit.

So keen are a large group of my Twitter followers to think that Brexit has made them poorer that they don't appear to consider this to be dodgy maths, but it looks that way to me.

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We can only assume that it somehow refers to the pound and to the inflation we can expect as a result of its fall against most currencies since 23 June. But how this year's weakness in sterling is translated into a 33.3% fall in usable salaries is anyone's guess (I suppose I should have stopped in to ask, but it was a Sunday and my kids aren't much interested in Brexit).

A not quite 20% fall in the trade-weighted value of the pound does not translate into an equal and opposite percentage rise in prices (not every single input of every single product in the UK is produced abroad). At the same time, there has so far been no discernable effect on GDP (rising at an annual rate of 2.3% in the third quarter) or employment (the Nissan plant in Sunderland is good to go) as a result of the UK's intention to leave the EU. Nor has there been one on house prices except for in prime central London (although of course if house prices were to fall, that would surely represent a rise in some people's "usable income").

There has, as the evidence-orientated man at the Office for National Statistics says, so far been "little evidence of a pronounced effect in the immediate aftermath of the vote". All the things predicted by "Project Fear" may yet happen in the UK (early days, etc) but right now I am less bothered by that possibility than by the fact that an awful lot of people seem to be convinced they already have.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.