Channel 4 News podcast: Former Chancellor says there will be no Brexit bonus – and admits mistakes on immigration
Last week Theresa May declared austerity was over. This week former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said it was still rampant and welfare cuts could lead to riots on the streets.
But it was George Osborne, the godfather of the British austerity project, who began it all with his budget eight years ago.
How does he reflect on his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer? And what does he think is next for Britain, post-Brexit?
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George Osborne has said that “almost no one credible” believes that Britain will be better off after Brexit – and said Theresa May is “putting off the hard decisions”.
In an interview for the new Channel 4 News podcast, ‘Politics: Where Next?’, the former Chancellor told Political Editor Gary Gibbon that the EU referendum was not a mandate for hard Brexit.
During the wide-ranging conversation, Mr Osborne also admitted the government made “mistakes” over immigration while he was in office, and the rhetoric was “too harsh”.
The former chancellor defended Universal Credit and welfare spending, by claiming it wasn’t possible to raise enough money by “[going] after the rich, oligarchs, the people who don’t pay any tax” instead.
More Osborne added that it felt like the Conservative Party had been “moving to the right”, over the last couple of year. He added that younger generations are “going out their way to stress that the party is… not trying to take us back to some sort of nativist past”.
Discussing Brexit, Mr Osborne said the country was “undertaking a course that the vast majority of MPs, members of the cabinet, civil servants feel is not the course the country should be undertaking”.
“The idea that Britain is better off for leaving the EU, I just don’t believe it. Nor does anyone… almost no one credible believes that,” he said. “The promised land from the Brexiteers was certainly not immediately available.”
Mr Osborne, who now edits the Evening Standard newspaper, claimed that Theresa May was “putting off the hard decisions” over Brexit – but said he was personally “very happy that they keep being put off”.
“What the political system is doing, what the Cabinet is doing, is just putting it off, these decisions. We’ve not actually taken any decision in Brexit,” he said. “The only decision we’ve taken is to delay. … It’s a never-ending process of putting off the hard decisions of what life is like outside the EU. Now, from my point of view, with good reason because these unpleasant or harsh outcomes for the UK.”
Mr Osborne said: “The political task after the referendum result was to try and bring the country together, not to split it further apart. And in a way the failure to do that was reflected in the general election result where the government lost its majority.”
He said he was keeping a “close eye on the growing clamour for a second referendum” but said it had “no prospect of going through Parliament at the moment”.
And, speaking about immigration, he said: “We certainly made mistakes. I’m not for a second pretending we didn’t. The immigration rhetoric was too harsh. We should have stressed the benefits of immigration I think, when it came to Europe.
“Every politician, left and right, used Brussels as the kind of kicking post when of course most of these issues is how we want to run our own society.”