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Theresa Villiers On BBC Question Time Prompts Brexit Zinger From David Dimbleby

Theresa Villiers was on the receiving end of a David Dimbleby comeback on Question Time after she launched into a passionate defence of Brexit.

The former Tory Northern Ireland Secretary was speaking in Belfast (which voted Remain), and from the off encountered an incredulous reaction from the audience.

She said: “I believe Brexit is going to open up real opportunities for the United Kingdom as a whole including Northern Ireland.”

As she finished her opening sentence a round of laughter spread throughout those watching.

Undeterred, she continued: “I think as an independent country again able to make our own decisions on how we support our farmers, giving a lifeline to our fishermen, introducing an immigration system that has democratic consent – I think all of these are positives and those that predicted that we would sustain an immediate economic shock when we voted to leave the European Union have been proved wrong.

“We have the lowest unemployment since 1975, there are three million more people in work than 2010, we have the best record in Europe for foreign direct investment.

“More than ever before there are many opportunities ahead for Northern Ireland when we implement Brexit.”

To which Dimbleby replied simply: “Is it going well so far?”

The Question Time host was of course referring to the current Brexit negotiations which are not going particularly well.

Talks between the United Kingdom and European Union are in “deadlock” over how much money Britain will pay as it exits the bloc and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, told a press conference in Brussels on Thursday the impasse was “disturbing”.

In response Villiers extolled the UK economy, saying: “The economy certainly is doing well. The economy is doing well.

“The fundamentals of the economy are very strong.”

But those watching at home were not so certain.

And there’s plenty of evidence to back them up.

This week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) slashed its UK growth forecast from 1.9 per cent to 1.7 per cent, singling it out as a “notable exception” amongst European countries.

Over the next five years Britain is expected to trail even Greece whose economy has been battered by a sovereign debt crisis and four recessions in nine years.

Inflation is currently surging and now stands at 2.9%, up from 2.6% in July, squeezing living standards.

The pound continues to struggle, dropping to 1.109 against the euro on Thursday, having been as high as 1.117 earlier. 

And the industry held up since the referendum by Brexiteers as one reaping the benefits of the triggering of Article 50, exporters, are now expressing doubts and worries of what a “no-deal” situation could mean.

Adding to the murky outlook, a damning report by leading investment bank, Rabobank, has warned a hard Conservative plans for a hard Brexit would plunge the UK into immediate recession, cost the economy £400 billion and wipe 18% off GDP growth by 2030.

Research by Rabobank also shows that any form of Brexit – hard, soft or through a new free trade agreement (FTA) – would be detrimental to the economy and British workers.

Under a “no deal” scenario, British workers would be left £11,500 poorer, while an FTA or soft Brexit would see working Britons stomach a £9,500 or £7,500 blow respectively, reports the Press Association.

Hugo Erken, senior economist at Rabobank, said: “There has been extensive economic research into the immediate effects of Brexit, but they have largely focused on trade and investment, whereas implications of the different factors that affect productivity is only marginally or partially addressed.

“By looking at dynamics such as innovation, competition, knowledge and human capital, how they will change and what effects this will have on the structural make-up of the UK and European economy, our research shows that the long-lasting impact of Brexit is likely to be more severe than initially anticipated.”

Rabobank said that even if the UK negotiated a new free trade agreement, like Switzerland’s, it would cost Britain 12.5% of GDP growth by 2030.

A soft Brexit, where the UK remains part of the European internal market but exits the customs union, would result in a 10% hit.

According to the research, a hard Brexit implemented in 2019 without a transition period would result in the UK economy “immediately falling into a two-year recession period”.

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