486/2020 Thiemo Fetzer and Shizhuo Wang
The United Kingdom (UK) reported record employment levels following its vote to Leave the European Union (EU), leading to many pundits discarding the dire pre-Brexit vote impact assessments as part of “project fear.” This paper studies the cost of the Brexit-vote to date across UK regions finding significant evidence suggesting that the economic costs of the Brexit-vote are both sizeable and far from evenly distributed. Among 382 districts, at least 168 districts appear to be Brexit-vote losers, having lost, on average 8.54 percentage points of output in 2018 compared to their respective synthetic controls. The Brexit-vote costs have increased in districts that: a) supported Leave in 2016; b) have a large manufacturing sector; c) have a large share of low skilled workers. The Brexit- vote induced economic divergence across regions is already exacerbating the regional economic inequalities that the 2016 EU referendum vote made apparent. Indirect evidence further suggests that firms may, amidst the significant (trade) policy uncertainty, have shifted away from capital to labour in the short- term given that Brexit has, to date, not led to changes in market access. The resulting short-term employment- and payroll growth post-2016 is not supported by productivity increases in most parts of the UK. This sets up the possibility for significant labor market adjustments once Brexit becomes a de-facto reality. Further, there is some evidence suggesting that COVID19 may exacerbate the regional economic impact of the Brexit-vote to date.