LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly said that “Brexit means Brexit.”

But among economists, fears are rising that things might be a bit more complicated. In its Wednesday edition, the Financial Times newspaper pointed out just how worried markets have been in reaction to May's recent announcements.

On Sunday, May held a major speech in Birmingham in which she announced that the official process to leave the European Union would begin by March 2017 at the latest. She also said Britain has the world's fifth-largest economy. It was an attempt to reassure markets and voters that the country's economy was strong enough to withstand the risks associated with taking the momentous decision to leave the European Union and to persuade other nations to strike trade deals quickly.

But in an ironic twist, that argument soon turned into an embarrassment, as markets reacted to May's determination to pursue Brexit. The British sterling lost so much value against the euro that Britain dropped to the sixth spot in international rankings, falling behind France. After May's speech, the sterling had fallen to a 31-year low against the dollar.


British Prime Minister Theresa May gives a speech on the final day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham on Oct. 5. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

The Financial Times calculation is based on market exchange rates, which are considered imperfect by some economists. However, the exchange rate-based drop in economic size is only one of many indications that Britain's economy could suffer under the fallout from Brexit.

Most international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, have repeatedly emphasized the economic risks of the referendum. More recently, some banks and international companies have publicly said they were considering moving their headquarters to other E.U. nations.

May has tried to steer the public debate away from the Brexit negotiations and toward other, more domestic issues. However, some statements by members of her cabinet have achieved the opposite.

Associations representing British companies reacted with anger and confusion to an announcement Wednesday by Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who had proposed to force companies to publish the number of foreign workers they employed.

Relying on a sense of dark British humor, many commentators on social media later wondered whether mandatory armbands for foreigners might be next.

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