Britain might be entering a full-blown recession that a no-deal exit from the European Union would compound, blowing a £30bn-pound hole in the public finances, a budget watchdog said yesterday.
The Office for Budget Responsibility said the economy probably flat-lined or might have contracted in the second quarter.
Some of that weakness may have been payback after a rush to build up inventories before the original Brexit deadline in March.
“But surveys were particularly weak in June, suggesting that the pace of growth is likely to remain weak,” the OBR said it said in a report on the outlook for the public finance.
“This raises the risk that the economy may be entering a full-blown recession.”
Britain’s economy slowed by less than feared after the 2016 Brexit referendum. But many investors are worried about a sharp downturn now with the latest Brexit deadline approaching on October 31 and the world economy slowing because of trade tensions.
A no-deal Brexit could cause the economy to contract by 2% by the end of 2020, the OBR said, referring to International Monetary Fund forecasts.
It could also add £30bn a year to public borrowing by the 2020-21 financial year, the OBR said, more than doubling the expected deficit.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said in an interview published yesterday that he was unimpressed by threats of no-deal Brexit, but that if the United Kingdom opted for such a course it would have to face the consequences.
Despite previous warnings of the damage that a no-deal Brexit could do to the economy, both contenders to become prime minister next week say they would leave the EU without a transition agreement to soften the shock, if necessary.
With a majority of Britain’s lawmakers opposed to a disorderly exit, some have questioned whether Boris Johnson, favoured to replace Theresa May, would suspend parliament in order to deliver Brexit by the next deadline.
On Wednesday he refused to say whether he would go ahead with such a plan, but he did say it could be convenient for him.
Sky News said on Tuesday that Johnson was considering holding the Queen’s Speech, in which the prime minister lays out a policy programme, in November.
That means lawmakers would be sent home two weeks earlier, hampering their ability to stop Britain’s leaving the EU without a deal on October 31.
Meanwhile lawmakers yesterday backed proposals to make it harder for the next prime minister to force through a no-deal Brexit by suspending parliament, showing again their determination to stop a divorce from the European Union without agreement.
Johnson has said Britain must leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal. He has refused to rule out suspending, or proroguing, parliament to prevent lawmakers from passing legislation to block his exit plan if he tries to exit without a deal. Lawmakers backed a proposal by 315 to 274 that would require parliament to be sitting to consider Northern Irish affairs for several days in September and October even if it was suspended.
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