It’s The Festive Season: So Forget About Brexit (For The Moment):

How do you feel about the big European Union debate? Perhaps you share the view of much of the UK population who – according to William Wallace in the Independent on 29th October – are completely fed up with the whole thing. The media and the politicians might be obsessed by the negotiations with the Brussels bureaucrats – but most people’s priority at the moment is more likely to be planning for Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and deciding what presents to buy for their friends and family.

A survey conducted by NatCen Social Research – featured in the latest edition of The Economist magazine – has concluded that very few voters have changed their minds since the Referendum last year, that those in favour of leaving the EU still think it’s a good idea, but that it’s being handled very badly. In the opinion of The Guardian on 9th December, the agreement reached between British Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU commission the previous day – on how much the UK will have to pay for the “divorce” (£40 billion?), the future rights of EU citizens in the UK and what will happen with the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland – was the “easy bit; the most difficult part lies ahead”.

Has all this seemingly interminable wrangling adversely affected the mood of the British public? Apparently not. In November, the Office For National Statistics (ONS) released “its first data on national well-being since the Referendum on June 23rd 2016”. This indicated – noted the International Business Times on November 7th – that “Britons are happier, despite a squeeze on household incomes, higher inflation and a weaker pound”, although the ONS also acknowledged that “as we have not yet left the EU, the implications it will have for the daily lives of people in the UK remain to be seen”.

An article on November 8th by Steve Doughty, the Social Affairs Correspondent for the pro-Brexit Daily Mail, was unequivocally jubilant about the ONS report. “Forget Brexit doom and gloom”, proclaimed the headline: “ Levels of contentment have hit record levels in the year after the decision to leave”. Instead a plunge into worry and fear, wrote Doughty, “there is convincing evidence of rising happiness and satisfaction with life”. The ONS findings, he asserted “undermine claims that people are alarmed by the prospect of economic reverses and deeply concerned about the future”. On the contrary, “the national anxiety measure now stands at 2.91 out of ten, compared to 3.13 in the spring of 2011”.

The ONS figures correlate closely with those contained in the Legatum Institute’s Global Prosperity Index 2017. This analyses each country’s economic quality, business environment, governance, personal freedom,social capital, safety and security, education, health and natural environment. It ranks the UK at No 10 – below Norway, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Canada and Australia, but above Germany (11), the USA (18), France (19), Spain (20) and Italy (30). The highest ranked Latin American nation is Costa Rica at No.29.

The World Happiness Report 2017, issued by the United Nations, has the same top ten as the Legatum Institute, though Costa Rica (12) and the USA (14) are both further up, while Germany (16) and the UK (19) are lower on their list. The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, has published a chart showing the variations in happiness across the UK: it has denominated the district of Craven in North Yorkshire as the happiest place in the UK with 8.3% and Hertsmere in Hertfordshire the saddest with just 6.87%. Hackney is portrayed as the most downcast borough in London.

Other available statistics somewhat contradict the rosy picture provided by the ONS. Andrew Macaskill, a correspondent for the Reuters news agency, on 4th December highlighted a poll conducted by the research firm Survation, which revealed that “half of Britons support a second vote on whether to leave the EU and a third said they would be worse off financially outside the world’s largest trading bloc”. Chris Morris, the “Reality Check” correspondent for BBC News, reported on 29th September that between July 2016-June 2017, 64,400 UK citizens applied for Irish passports, followed by applications for Spain (4,558), Sweden (2,002), Denmark (604), Poland (332), Finland (115), Greece (34), Czech Republic (27), Croatia (13), Romania (7).

The London Evening Standard on 29th November focused on the possibility of a “public backlash” against Britain having to pay a Brexit “divorce bill” of around £50 billion .The same newspaper on 5th December drew attention to the fact that millions of rail users will be hit with fare increases of up to 3.6% in January – the biggest for 5 years – “due to Brexit and the slump in the pound” .

More immediately: The Good Housekeeping magazine has carried out an investigation into the cheapest items currently on the shelves of the UK’s main supermarket chains. It’s verdict (as quoted by the Guardian’s consumer affairs correspondent, Rebecca Smithers, on 28th November ): The “Brexit effect” has pushed up the price of Christmas. The cost of a turkey the same size as one on sale for £8 at Christmas 2016 will now be £8.99; Brussels sprouts, 88p (58p last December); Mince pies £1.58 (£1.49); Christmas cake £3.99 (£3.00); parsnips 88p (58p); Carrots 35 p (29p). Cranberry sauce, though, has stayed the same at 55p and if you’re partial to Christmas pudding, that’s gone down from £3.49 to £3.00.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on December 12th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon

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