Treasury report on Brexit: Why the many fiscal faces of chancellor George Osborne could backfire on Remain campaign in EU referendum

Tim Focas
George Osborne Leaves Downing Street Ahead Of The Budget Vote
How much longer our chancellor can continue to walk the tightrope of economic credibility with the electorate? (Source: Getty)

During his time at number 11, George Osborne has presented a number of contradictory fiscal positions. He is of course best known for his austerity rhetoric, so one would think with the ultimate goal to reduce the size and influence of Whitehall.

But the reality is that he has consistently failed to meet his deficit reduction targets. Vote chasing policies such as making two of the largest government departments – education and health - immune from cuts hasn’t helped his cause.

Then this week, we had Osborne’s “economic analysis” into the impact of a Brexit on the UK economy. The problem is that the report fails to take account the savings from cutting EU regulation, which would be as high as seven per cent of GDP.

Read more: Why the EU could be "pushed over the edge" in 2016

Yet in the past, he has been one of the first to complain about the amount of legislation coming from Brussels that does nothing other than confuse nationally elected governments and the people they serve.

To put this into context, the US constitution (with all 27 amendments) reaches 7,718 words, and the equivalent EU rules come in at over 11,000. On top of this, EU directives are often enshrined in a country’s law with no option for amendment.

Another key aspect that counters previous economic positions upheld by Osborne is transparency. We all know how proud he is to be the first chancellor to set up an office of budget responsibility (OBR) – a body that provides a health check on the nation’s finances independent of the chancellor.

However, this contradicts the EU’s approach, which prevents transparency within the system by formulating contrived loopholes that need to be maneuverered for any legislation to be implemented.

Read more: Remain support rises ahead of vote but many undecided

All this does is provide a distorted view to the electorate. The chancellor should have a word with the Greek people, who have been subject to bureaucratic measures so confusing that it has left themselves asking who on earth it serves.

Despite Osborne clearly having more fiscal sides to him than a Rubik’s cube, it hasn’t deterred him from holding the midas of political touches with the electorate. After all, he was the brains behind an unexpected election win based on his unwavering message of Britain sticking to its “long term economic” plan.

But as the clock ticks down to June 23, one wonders how much longer our chancellor can continue to walk the tightrope of economic credibility with the electorate. Particularly as he has the front to call the Brexit campaign economically illiterate.

As the old saying goes, people (or should that be politicians) in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

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