The banks and financial services sector would abandon London overnight, they said. Vital funding would be lost for farming, science and regeneration schemes. The British economy would immediately stall, then spiral into a crash.
Eleven weeks on from the vote, the sky has yet to fall in; but the Chicken Licken tendency still insist they were right. They do so in the face of a mounting body of evidence that we are keeping calm, carrying on and making a pretty good job of our new life.
Take those banks. They are not set to leave the UK in any kind of a hurry.
A key issue for the sector will, of course, be passporting – whether British-based institutions keep the right to sell services freely across Europe. I believe that is quite achievable, but it is unlikely to be secured until 2018 or even later.
In the meantime, all bets are off and people will stay put. Who says so? Well, the banks themselves, as Bloomberg recently reported.
“There isn’t a burning need for us to make a decision ahead of seeing how the UK government negotiates,” said Stuart Gulliver of HSBC in early August. “We’ve got plenty of time to see how that pans out.”
Rather different from his message pre-referendum that he would move 1,000 staff to France after Brexit.
Before July was out, the chief financial officer of BNP Paribas, Lars Machenil, was saying: “We are very pleased to be in the UK. We’ve been there a very long time. We stay there to serve our customers.”
Senior figures at UBS, Standard Chartered and Credit Suisse have spoken similarly. Not exactly a dash for the exit, then. As a new report from the Centre for Policy Studies released this week emphasised, London’s competitiveness means the city will remain Europe’s financial services centre after Brexit.
On funding too, the Remainers’ scaremongering has been nicely boxed by chancellor Philip Hammond.
He said the Treasury would guarantee to back EU-funded projects signed before this year’s Autumn Statement. He also gave an assurance that agricultural funding now provided by the EU will continue until 2020.
Continuity secured, reassurance provided. No funding taps are going to be turned off overnight.
What of the overall economy? George Osborne’s threat of a post-Brexit punishment Budget vanished like a bad dream. The market bounced back from its initial stumble. Then retail figures for July soared past expectations. In August, Kantar’s survey of supermarkets found year-on-year growth and no sign of post-Brexit price inflation.
Yes, the pound has had a period of readjustment but it is stabilising at a reasonable level. Any changes in exchange rates bring winners and losers. While holiday-makers and importers will see their pound buying them less abroad, goods made here now offer even better value for the rest of the world. It’s no coincidence that orders for our manufacturing exports hit their highest level in two years last month according to the CBI.
One of the best indicators of general economic health is the building sector and the property market. The chairman of Persimmon, one of the UK’s largest house builders, has said that the referendum result had been “quickly digested”, and that they are now getting more visits to their sites than last year. Bovis Homes likewise reported a “resilient” level of interest from homebuyers. And HMRC figures now confirm that July saw just as many house sales as normal.
Of course there are still challenges ahead. Many of those who voted to leave were prepared for some short-term adjustments in order to avoid what they saw as the long-term damage to the UK of remaining in the EU.
With such an enormous change, not everything will be easy. And last month, the Bank of England felt compelled to take pre-emptive steps to protect our economy from possible worst case scenarios.
But the emerging picture appears that it may favour those financial analysts who felt Mark Carney should have waited for evidence of a looming downturn before reaching for his bazooka.
One thing’s for sure. That peace and calm you hear right now? That’s the sky not falling in.