As an economist, diplomat and Secretary-General of the OECD, you might expect Angel Gurria to offer a dry, academic assessment of global issues. Not when it comes to Britain leaving the European Union.
On Wednesday, Mr. Gurria used colourful flourishes, unusual examples and blunt language to argue that there was absolutely no benefit to Britain leaving the EU. "We see no economic upside for the U.K. whatsoever," Mr. Gurria told a packed auditorium at the London School of Economics. "The only question is where, on the spectrum of possible losses, the outcome winds up."
He clearly had no time for those arguing for Brexit, calling them "deluded" at one point and adding that it was important to take on the Brexit campaigners even if that meant going negative. "Brexit has not too many good things about it, so you've got to denounce it. And there's a bunch of fear that has been built around Brexit in order to support it and we have to take the pieces apart, [deconstruct] the thing and then say look at it," he said. Then he added: "Britain, look at yourself in the mirror, naked. Do you like what you see? Mostly I hope you come out saying no. But then you say if you don't like what you see there is a better way in which you are already committed. Why change the way?"
Mr. Gurria and staff at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, whose members consist of 34 developed countries, tried to demolish every Brexit argument. Negotiating new trade deals would take time, government deficits would climb, unemployment would rise and whatever fiscal benefits there are to leaving the EU would be wiped out by the added financial pressures of a smaller economy. By the OECD's estimates, Britain's economy will be more than 3 per cent smaller in 2020 if it leaves the EU than if it stayed and up to 7.7 per cent smaller by 2030. That's equivalent to around £5,000 pounds ($9,200) per household. But even those estimates, Mr. Gurria believes, are "too cautious."
As if on cue, his presentation came as the government released figures showing Britain's economy grew by 0.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2016, the lowest quarterly growth since 2012 and down from 0.6 per cent in the previous three months. Mr. Gurria seized on the figures, saying they indicated the Brexit debate is already having a negative impact.
Mr. Gurria, who is from Mexico, also made no apologies for interfering in the British referendum as an outsider. "I have a duty; this is what the OECD does," he said. "We're always telling countries uncomfortable truths."
His comments added to a growing list of economists, business groups and think tanks that have concluded the country will be worse off if it leaves the EU. That has become the strongest argument for the Remain camp, but fears about immigration and the open border with Europe drive much of the Vote Leave support. Polls show both sides even with a referendum on EU membership still more than two months away.
The Vote Leave side was quick to denounce Mr. Gurria and the OECD, calling their assumptions flawed.
"Despite it making every possible worst case assumption, [the OECD] is still forced to admit that the British economy will continue to grow if we Vote Leave. It also acknowledges that we will be able to cut net migration significantly when we take back control of our borders," said Vote Leave campaigner Priti Patel, a Conservative MP.
"As the fifth largest economy in the world we will get a good trade deal with the EU and with growing economies around the world. We would be able to reduce the cost of doing business by reducing unnecessary red tape and we would take back control of the £350 million we send to the EU every week."