Andy Street: Brexit inertia is bad for business

In the West Midlands, investment decisions have been deferred. We need to be able to push ahead with new trade arrangements around the globe.

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

The UK faces momentous decisions over Brexit. Political machinations, entrenched viewpoints, and the impending deadline have seen the Brexit Deal dominate the national discussion in the first weeks of 2019.

These are historic times. The deal and its details have constitutional connotations which will define how the UK trades with the rest of the world for generations to come. It’s vital that Parliament is allowed to do its job properly in time-honoured fashion. Yet the inevitable inertia as the deal is hammered out is bad for business, the economy, and confidence.

That’s why it’s vital that while all the current talk is about whether there will be a deal on March 29th, the Government starts thinking now about what comes after a deal is struck.

So, what should the Government be planning?

First of all, we need to explain, explain… and explain again. The deal in its current state is 585 pages of highly technical language. While big business will have the resources and technical expertise to understand its implications, small businesses, charities, and many other organisations, simply will not. They will need to understand it, to accelerate returning confidence, and put certainty back into planning.

Looking ahead, we need to recognise that once a deal is struck, negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU begin straight away. What can we do to ensure there will not be the same parliamentary impasse when these proposals are brought forward? Is a new, more transparent approach required, that reaches out across the sectors to help build a parliamentary consensus?

With a deal settled, we need to demonstrate Conservative leadership to boost business, create jobs, and grow the economy.

There needs to be tangible support for the Government’s policy of Local Industrial Strategies – which the West Midlands has pioneered – to grow regional productivity.

That means investment in skills and training, and infrastructure to help business.

In some cases, this could mean direct support. Government should rapidly look at whether State Aid regulation can be altered to enable them to directly support our industries of the future, vital for companies such as Jaguar Land Rover.

Business rates on the High Street need to be looked at again, too. Retailers and traders welcomed the tax announcements in the Budget, but after a Christmas that has confirmed long-term trends these need to go further. Across all sectors of business, tax cuts will incentivise capital investment to increase productivity.

The sealing of a Brexit Deal is likely to release pent-up investments from businesses. I know businesses in the West Midlands have been deferring investment decisions because of the uncertainty over the deal. If the Government gets this right, we are likely to get a ‘Brexit boost’ as these investments are given the green light.

Of course, the UK will also be able to push ahead with new trade arrangements around the globe. Work has already begun with many countries, but there are some quick wins to be had here – such as abolishing mobile roaming charges in the USA. After the uncertainty of the last few months, we need to let the world know we are open for business. In the West Midlands, for instance, preparations for the Commonwealth Games in 2022 will play an important part in how we reach out as a region.

The next wave of public service reform needs to be interwoven into plans following a deal, too. The NHS long-term plan, investment in policing, getting Universal Credit right, and the roll-out of T-Levels all contribute to a new sense of investment and change.

Finally, we should unleash the regions to maximise the benefits of a new Brexit Deal. This means giving cash and power to Mayors and local decision-makers to drive their own prosperity, putting decision-making in the hands of those on the ground in the regions. Local leaders need long-term control as well as funding for transport investment so they can open new railway lines, build Metro systems, rollout out 5G and electric vehicle infrastructure. The regions need more powers to support the key sectors that build prosperity, and more control over Local Industrial Strategy. Our regions can drive the success of UK Plc.

The Comprehensive Spending Review this year is an opportunity for Government to make a success of Brexit. If Government gets this right it could ‘turn on the taps’ for billions of pounds of new investment into the UK.

For the West Midlands, this could be hugely significant, with ambitious investment in housing, more businesses choosing us as their home, a surge in confidence, and a tangible ‘Brexit Boost’ to the local economy.

When a Brexit Deal is struck, it will be time to get the UK moving again. Now is the time to start planning.

Media spin on Jaguar job losses needs a reverse gear – the news is nothing to do with Brexit

On Friday the BBC and Sky announced that Jaguar Land Rover is set to cut 5,000 jobs from its 40,000-strong workforce in the UK. There was no doubt in the minds of the presenters (and no doubt the editors that feed the lines) about what was the apparent root cause of this decision, which is […]

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On Friday the BBC and Sky announced that Jaguar Land Rover is set to cut 5,000 jobs from its 40,000-strong workforce in the UK. There was no doubt in the minds of the presenters (and no doubt the editors that feed the lines) about what was the apparent root cause of this decision, which is fear over Brexit.

Although noting, rightly, that JLR have been faced with a multitude of factors, the spin was clear. The lay-offs were to be part of a £2.5bn plan to cut down on costs. Although some production staff may be affected, it was later revealed, by Jaguar Land Rover themselves, that most of these cuts will target how the company manages itself. Cuts to jobs in management, sales and administration, in addition to 1,500 made globally last year.

Such job losses are occurring in the car industry globally. In other news at the end of last week, though buried far lower down the newsfeeds, were reports that Ford will be cutting thousands of jobs across the whole of Europe. Surely these cuts in Bordeaux and Saarland cannot also be blamed on Brexit as well? The Ford management made it clear that this was not the case – although it does make it clear that future decisions will look into the economic impact of Britain leaving the EU, which any sensible company would do as a matter of course.

So what has caused the hit on JLR if it isn’t Brexit? They have lost about 50% of their market in China, due in part to consumers’ caution over Trump’s trade war. That lack of sales alone has contributed to this crisis.

Then there is their focus on diesel engines: following the Volkswagen diesel emission scandals, and with increasing tax takes on diesel fuel and plans to clear the streets of diesel by 2030, the resale value of JLR products has dropped through the floor.

Furthermore, JLR products in the UK offer no small car option, only luxury items, only one electric car, and that’s priced at £64k. Whereas on the other hand, competitors offer small cars and a good range of electric vehicles for less than half that price, with the Nissan Leaf at £26,995. Nobody wants to buy a car at an exorbitant price knowing that its value will drop by half in the space of two to three years.

Plans made over the course of two decades, years before Brexit, have led to Jaguar Land Rover’s downturn.

Again, nothing to do with Brexit.

This all falls in line with a global downturn in the car industry, centred around massive changes in the dynamic of how the industry operates. The traditional car dealership is unfit for purpose and as we go increasingly online for car purchases, they will eventually die out.

The potential PCP (Personal Contract Purchase) crisis will be front and centre of the dynamic changes to come. As we know, the FCA is already investigating the current and most popular way of buying a car. This financial product, as most suspect, has been mis-sold due to the product being centred on future valuations of car prices. Due to the volatility, mainly on diesel cars, this will potentially leave customers with cars in massive negative equity.

This, in itself, will change the way people purchase their cars, as trust will be lost in this product, which is what car dealerships rely on. Contract hire, cash purchases or traditional HP loans will become the new norm once more. All this before we factor in the impact of driverless cars.

This, along with everything we’re seeing in the news with Jaguar Land Rover, and Ford, all adds up to the technological changes facing the car industry; and it has nothing to do with Brexit.

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Andrew Green: The new Immigration White Paper. Not just damaging, but a disaster – both for control and the Conservatives

Others would say that the appointment of a profoundly business-friendly Home Secretary was bound to lead to a weakening of immigration policy.

Lord Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch UK and a cross-bench peer.

As MPs gather next week to resume their debate on Brexit, they will need to turn their attention to immigration – a major issue in the EU referendum.

Unfortunately, the Immigration White Paper, slipped out just before Christmas, is not just a set-back for immigration control, it is a disaster. Indeed it will, in future, be seen to have been extremely damaging for public faith in the political system trust in politicians and the Conservative Party especially.

Why? Because, despite all their promises over eight years – not just promises but manifesto commitments – the Conservatives have given up any serious attempt to reduce immigration. If the proposals in The White Paper are implemented, immigration will be far more likely to increase still further and could well spin out of control.

How could that be? Consider this. Until now, highly skilled immigration (that is at degree level or higher) has been open for EU citizens but capped at 20,700 for non-EU entrants. According to the new policy, there will be no cap on either. Furthermore, employers will no longer be obliged to advertise a job in Britain before recruiting from overseas: how will British staff feel about that? There is even talk of abolishing the system of sponsorship so that anyone could bring in a worker, perhaps even a relative, as long as they said that they would be paying a salary of £30,000 a year. Yet the Government’s own Advisory Committee, mainly pro-immigration economists, has admitted that salary levels can be fiddled, for example by including other elements such as accommodation.

For anyone who has followed immigration matters for some years (in my case 18 years), this is sheer foolishness, but that is not the half of it. There is also to be a new route for those with much lower qualifications – put simply, “A level” or equivalent – which will be open to the whole world and also uncapped. Given that these routes will lead to settlement there could be waves of applications, from all over the world, including from people willing to take a pay cut to get on a track for permanent residence and eventual British citizenship.

There is more. There is also to be a route for unskilled workers from “low risk” countries. They will be able to come for “up to a year” – note that expression – before having to go home for a year for a “cooling off period”, whatever that might mean. As for whether they can then come back again, the document is not clear. What is clear is that “up to a year” is a blatant attempt to fiddle the immigration statistics.

How so? Because migrants are asked on arrival how long they expect to stay in the UK. If they say more than a year, they count as immigrants. But these people will say less than a year and will therefore not be included in the immigration statistics. It is, frankly, shocking that a Conservative Government should behave in such an underhand way on an issue of such importance to its own supporters and, of course, to many others. Nearly two thirds of the public and, indeed, 85 per cent of Conservative voters consider that immigration has been too high over the past decade.

Amazingly, this last route will also be uncapped and will be open to visitors from these countries to find and take up a job while they are here. The clear implication is that all EU countries will be included amongst the “low risk” countries, so Romanians and Bulgarians, still arriving in considerable numbers, will continue to flow in. There is suppose to be a review of this route after four or five years; we shall see.

Even that is not the end of it. There is currently a Youth Mobility Scheme that applies to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan that allows their citizens aged 18 to 30 to come here for two years, non-renewable, to travel or work. This route is currently capped at 59,000 a year. This too has already been offered to the EU provided it is on a reciprocal basis.
It is beyond question that immigration was a major issue at the referendum. Its salience has declined somewhat since then, at least partly because people thought that it was all in hand.

The White Paper contains a great deal of talk about the “control” of immigration, but the reality is that new routes will be opened, some temporary – but the Government’s record in removing overstayers is lamentable. Meanwhile, the public are clear that they want to see an actual reduction. They are aware, no doubt, that immigration has been adding one million to our population every three years since 2001. They may also know that, at current rates of immigration to England, we shall have to build a new home for immigrants every six minutes, night and day.

How has it come to this? Why has the Government caved in so completely to the industrial lobby? The cynic might say that industrialists are the Conservative Party’s chief paymasters. They might also say that the Remainers in the Cabinet are not unhappy that a major objective of the Brexiteers should lie in tatters. Others would say that the appointment of a profoundly business-friendly Home Secretary was bound to lead to a weakening of immigration policy. And, of course, the Prime Minister, who has been a bulwark of resistance to massive levels of immigration, is now in a much weaker position and has many very large fish to fry.

Whatever the reasons, the outcome is deplorable. We should have learned from Labour, who loosened immigration controls shortly after they came in to power in 1997 and found that net migration trebled in a couple of years. Before that net migration was never more than 50,000 a year and sometimes negative.

Now we are still at a quarter of a million a year and many members of the public, especially outside our main cities, have had more than enough. There will be deep resentment at the Conservative Government’s refusal to listen and their failure to act. As for the Conservative Party, it will go into the next election with immigration still at a quarter of a million, perhaps more, and many voters will respond accordingly. Denis Healey once described a Labour manifesto as the longest suicide note in history. At 160 pages this White Paper is a strong competitor.

Andy Street: In the West Midlands, inclusion is more than a buzzword. It’s turning our diversity into a strength.

It is a sad and all-too-obvious fact that most of the decision makers I meet in my role as Mayor are people who look like me.

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Diversity defines modern Britain. I have often written about Urban Conservatism and the new brand of politics we are pioneering in the West Midlands. This new approach is about inclusivity and opportunity for a young and diverse population, and I have tried to be a Mayor who represents everyone – all places, faiths, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and (dis)abilities.

But if the message of Urban Conservatism is to resonate, we have to ensure that inclusivity not only means reaching out to the communities that make up modern Britain, but that they are represented in all walks of life and at all levels.

It is a sad and all-too-obvious fact that most of the decision makers I meet in my role as Mayor are people who look like me. I could not and still can’t fully understand why the demographics of this incredibly diverse region are not reflected in its leadership. Like elsewhere, the region is made up of 50 per cent women and 20 per cent people with disabilities (or with a long-term illness).

But it’s the ethnic diversity which makes it special. We say this is a place where you can see the whole world in seven boroughs. Birmingham’s population is 58 per cent white, with 27 per cent of our residents being of Asian descent and nine per cent Black. In neighbouring Coventry, two thirds identify as White British, a statistic that is broadly reflected across the rest of the conurbation. Birmingham is soon going to be a ‘majority-minority’ city – but this is not obvious when you look at the make-up of decision-makers in the City region.

So in September last year I launched the Leadership Commission, made up of independent commissioners and chaired by Anita Bhalla, which aimed to understand why the wider leadership of our region is not more representative of the people it serves. Its report, compiled by researchers at the University of Birmingham and other seats of learning across the region, reinforced our understanding of many longstanding issues and made clear recommendations for action.

It found that women are better represented in leadership roles in the public sector than in the private sector, where they are significantly under-represented, and that people from black and ethnic minority groups are under-represented in senior leadership positions both in education and the private sector. The evidence also highlighted how disabled employees are under-represented in professional roles in the public sector, but not the private sector in the West Midlands.

Responding to the recommendations to deal with the clear imbalances that have been highlighted we now have a clear implementation plan which starts with the business community.

Many businesses recognise the need to connect with communities on a broad level, not only because there is a business case for inclusivity, but because it is the right thing to do. Slowly but surely, I sense that the dials are changing, and the “Inclusive Leaders’ Forum” has come together. It is committed to improving the diversity of leadership in their organisations through better recruitment, retention and promotion. Members include local councils, the NHS, big employers like PwC, KPMG, universities and major retailers like Selfridges along with SMEs and microbusinesses. In January we will be launching an ambitious drive to recruit a thousand more organisations in the West Midlands to the forum.

The Government is also playing its part in promoting inclusivity. Work to better understand the Gender Pay Gap – with 10,000 of the UK’s larger companies providing details of their employees’ pay – is a major step forward in enabling senior decision makers to do things differently. I have no doubt the Race Pay Gap will highlight the same kinds of inequalities in our workplaces, and be equally impactful in driving action.

Similarly the Government is committed to greater diversity in Public Appointments. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of welcoming the Minister for Implementation, Oliver Dowden, to Birmingham, for the first roadshow aimed at encouraging a more diverse pool of applicants for public roles. We will now work with the Cabinet Office on those practical skills needed for the application and interview process, and providing guidance for public appointees. It is only by providing transparency in our processes that we will see people who are less likely to take part in civic activities take that first step and engage. Crucially, we also have to drum up confidence about taking that step into public roles.

A key asset in addressing all these issues in the West Midlands is the strength of faith organisations and faith-related activity in the region. Therefore one of my first commitments after becoming Mayor was to convene a group of faith leaders and ask them to design the Mayor and Faith Conference. The conference took place in November last year, and brought together 400 different faith organisations at the Great Hall of the University of Birmingham. It was a day of optimism and exploring how faith groups could work together on homelessness, leadership, hate crime and economic growth. The conclusion was obvious – the faith communities are a powerful part of our collective leadership. We have since created an Action Plan, and are working through all the good ideas that came out of the conference.

As Mayor of this diverse region, I am committed to visiting places of worship and understanding more about the rich fabric of faith which is so important to the residents of the West Midlands. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, which is most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism. This visit allowed me to build on all I have learnt from the gurdwaras into which I have been welcomed across the region. Iftars are already in the diary for next Ramadan, and this festive season I have been meeting the Jewish community for Hannukah and visiting various churches in their preparations for Christmas. Diwali is also a big deal for my office, with Birmingham’s Victoria Square annually being transformed into an Indian celebration of the festival of light.

The lesson of all this involvement is clear – that each faith deserves to be respected in its own right. Each gives morality and purpose to its own community. But each faith also teaches respect and tolerance for every other community. It is through understanding such common values that our society as a whole can thrive – and in a sense the West Midlands is the exemplar of that.

Urban Conservatism’s message of hope, opportunity and progress resonates with all communities – and we now need to show that we are serious about truly representing the people in them. Although there is so much still to do, we are starting to change the way our Party is viewed in traditional Labour areas. Labour do not and should not have a monopoly on votes from certain communities.

In the West Midlands, we are ensuring that inclusion is more than a ‘buzzword’ – it’s an approach that is turning our diversity into a strength.

Lord Ashcroft: Special Report: St Helena – the island of fading hopes and dreams

It is an attractive destination, with a friendly population and a fascinating history, but it has been badly let down by officialdom.

The breath-taking view during the last half-mile of the short taxi ride from St Helena Airport to the heart of Jamestown is one that I will never tire of admiring.

On each side of a steep valley are cliffs that soar to more than 600 feet while, at the bottom, the streets of the island’s capital are full of charm and character as they lead down to the sea. Beyond the promenade are scores of boats of all shapes and sizes bobbing in the usually sheltered waters of James Bay.

The view is also a signal that I am about to meet arguably the world’s friendliest local people: “Saints”, as the islanders like to be known, are warm-hearted, hard-working and family-orientated.

However, last weekend, on my third visit to the island, the numerous locals that I met were not their usual cheery selves. In fact, I detected an overwhelming mood of weariness, frustration and, at times, even burning anger.

“The island is at an all-time low. There are no tourists, no money. Morale is not good: everyone is feeling the pinch and hurting,” said Patrick Henry, 53, who along with his partner, Lucille Johnson, 44, owns V2 Taxis, which I use for my shuttles to and from the airport.

They, like other islanders, invested their life-savings into businesses on the basis that the new airport, built with £285 million of taxpayers’ money and which finally opened to passenger flights 14 months ago, would bring unprecedented numbers of visitors to St Helena and, with them, economic prosperity.

The couple now have three businesses: an 18-vehicle taxi fleet, a pub, and a café – but not enough customers to justify the “huge amount of money” that they have invested.

St Helena, about a third the size of the Isle of Wight, is a British Overseas Territory that became famous as the location where Napoleon Bonaparte, the defeated French emperor, spent the majority of his exile until his death in 1821.

As a volcanic island that erupted out of the South Atlantic 15 million years ago, it is one of the most remote places on earth: some 1,200 miles from the African mainland and 1,800 miles from Brazil.

The island has a population of less than 4,500 who earn an average wage of little more than £7,000 a year. Yet inflation is running at 4.1 per cent and the average cost of goods and services are said to be 14 per cent more than in the UK due to the additional bills that remoteness brings.

The airport was built to replace the Royal Mail Ship St Helena as it reached the end of its life. The “RMS”, as it was affectionately known, took five days to reach the island from Cape Town. However, after various flight safety issues, St Helena now has only one regular weekend return flight from Johannesburg, with each flight capable of carrying less than 100 passengers.

The cost of a return economy flight from Johannesburg is typically around £900 and many flights have been delayed, in some cases by several days, due to weather problems. Several potential tourists have even returned home with bills running to thousands of pounds for flights and hotels without ever landing on the island.

I first came to St Helena with my parents when I was a toddler, while I came for the second time in January 2017. The purpose of my third visit, last weekend, was to speak to those who help to run the island, those entrepreneurs investing in it and also the man – and woman – on the street.

The biggest inward investor on St Helena is Hazel Wilmot (pictured, below), who has spent nearly £3 million buying and renovating both the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown and a 17-acre farm inland.

Her spending was based on the anticipation that the airport, originally due to open in 2012 before the opening was delayed twice more for safety reasons, would result in riches for entrepreneurs. Yet, in the run-up to the airport’s actual opening in October last year, Ms Wilmot says she went nine months without a single overnight paying guest.

Ms Wilmot, 62, was reduced to tears as she told me of her exasperation during her decade on the island after moving there from Botswana. She says her losses since December 2008 total more than £700,000 – an average of over £70,000 a year.

“Tourism has not generated the income that we were expecting or that we were promised,” she said, adding that islanders were even encouraged to invest long after the Department for International Development (DFID) and the St Helena Government (SHG) learned that strong unpredictable winds – known as “wind shear” – would endanger flights.

“We are basically being told ‘hang in there, sweetheart, and it’ll come right’. Well, I am surprised a few of us haven’t hung ourselves never mind just hung in there.”

Before the airport opened, official figures predicted that the tourist numbers to the island would increase from around 1,000 a year to 29,000 a year by 2042. “It’s completely pie in the sky,” said Ms Wilmot.

“The only way I am going anywhere is if you carry me out in a box,” she added. “But I am finding it very difficult at the moment.” Then the tears flowed before she added: “I don’t see any end in sight.” She now plans to seek a judicial review in the UK in order to seek compensation from DFID for its alleged incompetence and deceit.

Lyn Thomas (pictured, below), who has lived on the island all her life, is married with a stepson, two daughters and seven grandchildren. Along with Larry, her husband, and Tara, her daughter, Mrs Thomas, aged 54, owns two companies that operate seven shops and employ 40 people.

She told me of her frustration at waiting seven years for the SHG and the Environment and Natural Resources Directorate (ENRD) to make a decision on whether she can buy or lease a plot of land to build a retail centre that incorporates activities for young children and teenagers.

“I have gone round and round and round. If you don’t move your business forward, it starts to slide back. It’s the frustration of begging and kowtowing, and I am not very good at it. There are times when I lose my patience, but I will carry on,” said Mrs Thomas.

Mrs Thomas, who was formerly the Chairman of the Bank of St Helena, added: “Sometimes subsidies breed inefficiency so I don’t l like the word ‘subsidy’ but people can need a hand up to get fully functioning and financially viable.”

Many people on and off the island are desperate to have a direct flight link to Europe, in general, and the UK, in particular. Atlantic Star Airlines, headed by British pilot Richard Brown, remains keen to operate such a service but without public and/or private funds, flights to and from the island would be too costly. Furthermore, Atlantic Star could only operate such a service with permission from SHG, which, for now at least, has only one flight contract, with South African operator Airlink.

Gregory Cairns-Wicks, 54, is a married man with two children, who has lived on the island for 36 years. He owns and/or runs a 275-acre beef farm, three shops, and an importing business.

Mr Cairns-Wicks told me that in recent times taxes, import duties and freight charges have all increased, while targeted subsidies to the island have fallen and wages remain low.

“One way or another, things are not looking good,” he said, adding that some islanders are looking to move to the Falkland Islands, Ascension Island and the UK in search of higher wages and the means of eventually being able to afford to build their own house on St Helena. “When we lose young families, then that is a significant knock to the economy,” he said.

He said that unreliable flights meant that tourists, who have a choice of any number of destinations around the world, would not risk booking holidays on St Helena. “Unless something technical can be done with the airport to improve reliability, it’s going to be very, very difficult to build the economy – like trying to light a fire with a box of wet matches.”

Basil George (pictured, below), 82, a former teacher and the island’s former Director of Education – who now runs a tour company, Magma Way, with his son Kevin – is full of knowledge about the island. He believes that St Helena needs to maximise its resources, including its fishing and farming, while also diversifying.

“It’s a hugely difficult period. We need to manage this, going through this very difficult transition,” he told me. “The status we have as a self-governing territory and with a very small population really puts us in an impossible situation.”

During my two-day visit, I was a guest at Mantis St Helena, situated a stone’s throw from the sea in the heart of Jamestown. The hotel is stylish, well-run and well-staffed. In short, it has everything that anyone could wish from a 30-room, four-star boutique hotel except…a steady flow of guests.

The hotel, which opened its doors earlier this year, is managed, rather than owned, by the Mantis Collection, and is heavily subsided by SHG which saw the need to get an international-standard hotel on St Helena if it was to attract wealthy tourists. Yet, due to the island’s problems, the hotel’s occupancy rate hovers at between 15 and 20 per cent.

The Mantis Collection, founded and chaired by Adrian Gardiner, a successful South African businessman, had originally hoped to expand its interest on the island but now, like many other businesses, its confidence is waning in that the current airlift is not conducive to a successful tourist destination or other business opportunities.

DFID and SHG must never forget that international investors can look to operate anywhere in the world and so St Helena’s rulers must offer them assistance, encouragement and hope.

Already massive investment opportunities on the island have been missed. I am told that Shelco (the St Helena Leisure Corporation Ltd,) whose former chairman Sir Nigel Thompson like me has links to the island going back more than half a century, “lost the will to live” over countless delays to the first phase of its £120 million hotel and country club development for the island.

As a result, it recently sold a controlling stake in the company to Paul O’Sullivan, a successful businessman who also has ambitious development leisure plans for the island but who will never be foolish enough to sink in tens of millions of pounds of investment until the airport and other problems have been sorted out.

Mr O’Sullivan, who is the CEO of St Helena Corporation Plc, has 40 years’ experience as a pilot and therefore knows a thing or two about “next gen” (next generation) navigational aids.

He has told me that he believes St Helena’s current GBAS (Ground Based Augmentation System), fitted at a cost of some £2 million, can be adapted to enable planes to land on the island in most weathers. “It’s a major issue and if it’s not fixed soon, it will consign the island to a bleak future,” he said.

Mr O’Sullivan, who visited the island earlier this month, remains confident that, with a positive approach from DFID and SHG, he will invest more heavily on the island, and he has already built a show house there. “We did not go there to ‘loot and scoot’, we’re in for the long-haul and prepared to be patient,” he said.

Everyone on the island has thoughts on how it could prosper. Mike Olsson is the owner of the St Helena Independent newspaper which, along with Saint FM radio station, I sponsor to ensure its editorial independence. He believes that improved banking facilities and obtaining a new fibre-optic cable link are essential to the island’s future prosperity. There are moves to ensure that a fibre-optic cable running from South Africa to Brazil, which would provide super-fast internet speeds and other benefits, can branch off to St Helena.

Mr Olsson also favours “residential tourism”, particularly from northern Europe, so that long-term visitors during the northern hemisphere’s winter would not be so dependent on the weekly flights. Such a move, with numerous tourists staying on the island for months rather than days, would, however, require a big increase in medical facilities for the elderly

During my visit, Governor Lisa Honan, who has been widely praised for improving SHG’s transparency, was off-island due to work commitments. However, I spoke with others who help to run the island and manage its economy.

Lawson Henry (pictured, below), who has been a St Helena councillor for five years, is a member of the five-strong island Cabinet and chairs the economic and development committee.

“St Helena has real potential to be a tourist destination,” he told me. “It is only a small island but the diversity of what we have to offer could make us a good tourist destination.”

However, Councillor Henry was deeply critical of the decision to have the current airport “hub” – for flights to and from St Helena – in Johannesburg rather than Cape Town, where Saints have strong historic links and where tourists feel safer and keener to visit than crime-ridden Johannesburg. “We have to have a re-look at the hub and people have to be able to reach the island from different points of origin…If we don’t make these interventions, I think tourists will eventually stop coming.”

Councillor Henry added: “This has been a huge investment by the British taxpayer in this island and if the British Government doesn’t support us in doing some really fundamental other things, then it is not going to work.”

“There is a lot of frustration here on the island at this time…And there is a lot of pain in the community because of the state of our economy…There is a real lack of understanding of how a small isolated island has to operate.”

In recent years, St Helena has received around £30 million a year in Government subsidies from DFID but the ambition remains that, with a vibrant economy that includes a strong tourism sector, the island eventually moves towards self-sufficiency.

Dr Dawn Cranswick, who is Chief Executive for Economic Development, told me that it was “disappointing” to hear that entrepreneurs on and off the island had criticised the official support they received.

Little more than three months into her role, it would be unfair to expect her to come up with overnight solutions to problems that others have taken years or even decades to try to solve.

Dr Cranswick (pictured, right) said: “I think that as time goes on all of us, including tourism businesses on and off the island, will develop a stronger knowledge and understanding about how unique, niche destinations such as St Helena emerge as tourism destinations.

“I think there is a lot of very good work that has been done already but of course there is more to do. We now have around 50 international tour operators marketing the island. One of the things we are learning is the time it takes for a tour operator to come to know a destination and get it into their plans.”

Amid the disappointments and the criticisms, it should never be forgotten what an attractive destination St Helena is for the more adventurous traveller or how easy it is, once you have finally reached the island, to get around it and see the wonderful sights. St Helena offers an attractive climate, a rich history, stunning scenery, a unique wildlife, great walking, friendly locals and much more besides.

I broke off from my interviews for a couple of hours one afternoon to tour the island and remind myself of all it has to offer. I visited Longwood House, where Napoleon lived for six years. It is also the location where, aged just two, I fell into the goldfish pond (pictured, below) fully clothed while I was with my parents en route to Nyasaland, now Malawi.

I also visited Jacob’s Ladder (pictured, right) where, during the same visit in 1948, my late father Eric, then a fit young man, carried me up all 699 steps that had been cut into the hillside by the military in 1829 so that ammunition and other supplies could be carried up the cliff.

Furthermore, I was invited to Plantation House, the Governor’s official residence, where I had an interesting off-the-record conversation with Acting Governor Louise MacMorran before seeing Jonathan, the giant Seychelles tortoise. At 186 years old, he is the oldest tortoise in the world and possibly the oldest land animal, too.

I have no intention of investing in St Helena. My involvement is, by writing a lengthy blog and making a short film on my visit, to make a small contribution towards a greater understanding of the island’s problems and perhaps even to help find some solutions.

I hope that Saints and others will feel that my interviews with such a wide-range of islanders, rulers and investors leave me equipped to offer a few thoughts for others to ponder.

There is no doubt that insufficient research, including test flights, went into the airport before it was built, but the island will never have a second airport so it now needs to make the most of what it has. My well-informed contacts tell me that “wind shear” and cross winds are not, in fact, the major problem.

Instead, with an airport built at nearly 1,000 feet (pictured, below), it is low cloud that is largely causing the flight delays. I am no aviation expert but DFID, as a matter of urgency, needs to provide the island, at whatever the cost, the best equipment to enable planes to land regularly whatever the cloud conditions.

St Helena’s infrastructure, particularly its costly and unreliable communications, needs to be improved as a matter of urgency and its leaders need to be more welcoming and supportive to both local entrepreneurs and major outside investors.

I encountered red-tape from the moment I arrived when immigration officials insisted on myself and my small team filling in arrival forms, as well as providing immediate proof of our departure flights and health insurance. Why not follow the South African example of, upon entry, only needing a compulsory passport and optional smile?

Furthermore, I believe there should be a completely independent, strategic review of the island with nothing deemed “off the table”, including the island’s relationship with the UK. Saints would probably not want to be fully independent of the UK nor fully integrated into the UK, but everything needs to be assessed by experts who are devoid of any agenda.

Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, recently aired the possibility that a small number of senior overseas diplomatic posts could be filled by experienced businessmen or women.

Just days before I landed on St Helena, it was announced that the new governor of the island will be Dr Philip Rushbrook, who takes up his role in May.

I mean no disrespect to Dr Rushbrook, but surely St Helena presented the perfect opportunity to put a business leader, rather than a career civil servant, in the role. It would have been a controversial move but it might well have been a bold and wise move too.

As I headed back to the airport by taxi at the end of my two-day visit, I felt sad that Saints have become so despondent about their uncertain future. Their savings are dwindling, their resilience is weakening and their dreams are fading. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions but this tightly-knit community, which will always have a special place in my heart, deserves better.

>Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information on his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com

The UK’s unnoticed export boom underlines why a no-deal Brexit is nothing to fear

A true economic miracle is happening. An extraordinary leap in the UK’s global export trade has occurred – a complete reverse of the ‘Doomsday’ predictions of the Treasury, Bank of England and Department for Business in London both before after the Brexit vote. According to figures published by the UK Office of National Statistics in […]

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A true economic miracle is happening. An extraordinary leap in the UK’s global export trade has occurred – a complete reverse of the ‘Doomsday’ predictions of the Treasury, Bank of England and Department for Business in London both before after the Brexit vote.

According to figures published by the UK Office of National Statistics in November – in the second calendar year following the EU referendum – exports to non-EU countries were £342 billion while exports to EU countries were £274 billion.

In the same period, the growth in exports continued to outstrip the growth in imports, almost halving the UK’s trade deficit from £23.4 billion to £15.8 billion. Most exceptionally, since the referendum, exports have increased by £111 billion to £610 billion.

Doubters will say it is a temporary blip caused by the falling pound. Not true. The boom is in new markets, and largely in new products and services, too. UK exports not just increased but doubled in hitherto obscure countries such as Oman and Macedonia. Exports to distant Kazakhstan climbed to $2 billion, only slightly less than the UK’s exports to Austria, worth $2.43 billion in 2017, which like many EU nations buys very little from the UK.

In the 12 months to September, the value of UK exports grew by some 4.4%, including strong growth in the manufacturing sector. Indeed, HMRC stated that exports of goods had shown “robust growth in every single region of the UK”. The number of Welsh SMEs which export doubled during the last two years to 52%.

Curiously, none of this has been spotted by any of the UK’s headline media – the BBC, Sky News or the FT. Not a peep from the new editor of the Daily Mail. Even The Economist was asleep on the job. Meanwhile, various government departments are spending much of their time issuing ‘Death in Brexit’ forecasts in a co-ordinated campaign with the Bank of England and other allies – and rarely champion our achievements.

Four years ago I was interviewed by Richard Cockett, The Economist’s UK business editor. I told him the UK was experiencing an unparalleled SME boom. How did I know, he asked? Since leaving the FT as a technology correspondent and columnist in 2003, my small team in central London has maintained a uniquely comprehensive database of more than 70,000 UK smaller companies.

As a result, daily we receive an avalanche of success stories. In the food and drink sector alone, if you want whisky marmalade or beetroot ketchup, or 500 new gin varieties or more than 1,000 new craft beers launched since 2011, our very brave, risk-adoring micro-SMEs will deliver.

If a New York cathedral needs a new, hand-made organ that £3 million contract comes to Britain. We sell sand to Saudi Arabia, china to China, and Turkish delight to Turkey. In the ultra-competitive auto components sector, UK exports are up 20%. Luxury goods, consumer goods, clever instrumentation for NASA and crucial cerebral input into US defence projects are all avidly listed in our dataset.

And yet, in our view the true importance of the export boom is as much political as economic. It proves that a No-Deal exit from the EU – or what I much prefer to call ‘Our Own Deal’ – is by far the best option, and far less damaging and disruptive than the ‘experts’ at the Bank of England, IoD, CBI, OECD and World Bank have forecast.

Far from being the ‘poverty and isolation’ scenario predicted by the chin tremblers who endlessly appear on Radio 4, the UK will be far much dependent on the EU in as little as five years.

Fears about UK-made cars from Japanese firms such as Nissan and Toyota being cut off from Europe are groundless. First, the UK could retaliate against BMW and VW – something no post-Merkel German politician would tolerate. Any anti-Japanese actions by the French would result in the rapid diminution of the £4 billion annual exports of French cosmetics to Japan. And the French know it, no matter what Macron might bluster.

But the export explosion is not the only piece of recent great news for the UK – there is more. First, in October 2018 Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, invited the UK to become part of the Pacific free trade pact – although this is dependent on the UK leaving the EU’s Customs Union. It would make the UK the sole geographically-distant member of the grouping, helping the country to rebuild trading links around the Pacific Ocean that stretch back more than two centuries.

Next, BP’s huge Claire Ridge oilfield, west of the Shetlands, just came on stream, providing no less than £42 billion in revenues over the next 25 years. It is a development much envied across energy-starved Europe – and there are more oilfields to come.

At this critical moment in the Brexit saga, it is vital the UK now wakes up to the much brighter future it has outside of the EU, and vital that Mrs May copies the bravery of our SME exporters. The so-called ‘No-Deal’, a term that needlessly frightens ordinary citizens, should indeed be re-named ‘Our Own Deal’, in which we invite all nations to trade with us on fair trade, low or no tariff, basis.

The UK economy will soon be in a solidly secure position to refuse any damaging ‘deal’ from the European Commission. Perhaps it was always the height of imbecility to think we could ever get a good deal from the Commission.

Finally, the tide of history is in our favour, even in Europe. The current, sub-optimal generation of European politicians – Cameron, Merkel, Juncker – will soon ‘be history’. Merkel goes next year – and every EU Commissioner will be replaced, too.

As Brexit talks limp from one embarrassment to the next, a No-Deal option will not be the doomsday Theresa May, the financial and property elites, and the heads of the UK’s top organisations and PLCs have long predicted. In fact the UK should never have negotiated with the Commission – from whom no fair deal was ever possible. The UK should introduce its own deal, ‘Our Deal Now’, in which we offer all nations fair trade agreements with no or low tariffs.
For hundreds of thousands of small UK companies, a complete split from the EU can’t come soon enough.

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I export to 140 countries and say we should reject Theresa May’s deal and embrace a WTO Brexit

So the EU and the 27 have rubber stamped the deal and as our Prime Minister embarks on her nationwide tour to try and convince the public to lobby their MPs to back it, what does it means for us as a medium-sized business? With 130 employees, exports to more than 140 countries to date […]

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So the EU and the 27 have rubber stamped the deal and as our Prime Minister embarks on her nationwide tour to try and convince the public to lobby their MPs to back it, what does it means for us as a medium-sized business?

With 130 employees, exports to more than 140 countries to date in nearly a century of trading and multi-million pound investment plans, our future – and that of our people and their families – hinges on this deal and the outcome in Parliament on Tuesday 11th December.

And we think it is a con. The deceit behind the establishment’s efforts is plain to see. Our nation will not have taken back control and, as many have already said, this deal will leave us in a worse situation than had we actually remained in the EU.

Neither of these options – agreeing to Mrs May’s deal or officially remaining in the EU – is viable.

Mrs May wants us to lobby our MPs, and we should. We should tell them to vote against this terrible deal and to push for a totally clean break – the time has come for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

And here is why – staying in or agreeing to Mrs May’s deal would:

  • Leave a business like ours under the control of EU regulation. Our business would be exactly as we were pre-referendum. We voted to Leave to be out of this trap. This deal damages our business, our staff and their families and many other UK companies.
  • Leave us unable to sign trade deals with the rest of the growing world where the UK makes a surplus in our trade on goods. Not only will this be damaging to our business, it will damage all of us.
  • Prevent us from being able to negotiate a future trading arrangement with the EU that is favourable to us. Already the French and Spanish are using the agreement to the Irish backstop to their advantage. This backstop is a threat to our United Kingdom and it allows others with different political agendas to use it as leverage against our country.

For the above we have the privilege of paying a £39 billion price.

Let us remember just what our membership of the EU has meant for us. Firstly, the payment of circa £10 billion (nett) a year in membership fees and the surrender of our sovereignty by allowing the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to reign supreme.

Membership has resulted in the demise of our manufacturing heartlands as multi-national companies exploit the system in their favour. Many jobs have been exported to other member states where labour is cheaper and regulations differ. Some businesses have even received EU backing to export British jobs overseas.

The never-ending burden of bad EU Directives and Regulations has held back business, and stifled competition and innovation. Meanwhile the free movement of people has helped to hold back productivity due to some employers taking advantage, making it less affordable and attractive for business to invest and boost output.

The uneven playing field that exists means that we are not able to trade fairly in the EU because of individual hurdles that are erected to keep us out and of course, the unfair competition that we face due to not everyone playing by the same rules.

Crucially, membership has led to the loss of our world-renowned British Standards (BS) and their replacement by Euro norms, despite them being probably the best in the world. REIDsteel has 150 structures in the Caribbean, all designed to British Standards. Every single one stood up to the category 5 hurricane that saw Chinese and American buildings blown away last year. The forced use of Euro norms increases costs by an average of 20%, making us less competitive in the real world.

So, unforgivably, Prime Minister May’s deal betrays what the people of this country voted for and locks us back into almost everything that the EU stands for; it is a capitulation.

Furthermore, if our politicians allow themselves to be bribed, coerced and pushed into agreeing the deal as it stands (even with the backstop removed) the insignificant gains of the arrangement will undoubtedly ebb away and we will be left like a sitting duck.

As Mrs May once said, no deal is better than a bad deal. The elite and the ultra-Remain camp promote catastrophe at the very thought of no deal, but this is absolute nonsense.

There will undoubtedly be some short-term disruption but it is worth remembering that Operation Stack at Dover has been in force more than 211 times without any reported catastrophes to the just-in-time delivery chain.

In any case, ‘no deal’ actually means a deal on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms which is infinitely better than what the Prime Minister and her Government are trying to sell us.

Those who prophesy the end of days in a no-deal scenario either don’t know what they are talking about or are deliberately spreading fear and lies to frustrate Brexit or bring it about in name only.

Most of the rest of the world can and does trade on WTO terms and countries like China, Australia and America seem to manage just fine; it is complete nonsense to suggest we can’t do the same.

We can and we should have a clean Brexit. So let’s get on with it. Write to our MPs and tell them to start believing in our country by supporting the rejection of this terrible deal and backing a clean and proper break.

Only then can we ever have a good meaningful relationship with our partners in Europe and across the world.

A no-deal outcome will be just fine: we will go on to prosper outside the EU’s protectionist bloc that has never protected our country and its people.

Without this we will never take back control.

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Small businesses like mine don’t need a deal that locks us into a system with no exit

I recently added my name to a long list of other business leaders calling on MPs to reject the EU Withdrawal Agreement. But whereas those trying to keep us in the EU, or who support this deal, like to roll out big name brands from huge multinational companies, we speak as those who make up […]

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I recently added my name to a long list of other business leaders calling on MPs to reject the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

But whereas those trying to keep us in the EU, or who support this deal, like to roll out big name brands from huge multinational companies, we speak as those who make up a larger part of the economy – Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

According to the latest figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 99.9% of all businesses in the UK are SMEs and account for over half of the private sector turnover in this country.

Small businesses, like the technology company I helped found, which employs over 15 people in the UK, are the life blood of our economy. Those entrepreneurs who have staked their own money and reputations on realising an idea – whether it’s the sole trader, the family-run business or the established regional player – are the ones politicians should be listening to when it comes to our future relationship with the EU, and with the world.

We are the ones with the confidence to try and to fail, to risk and to reward, to expand and to innovate.

We don’t have the same marketing muscle as big business. Our pockets aren’t so deep as to be able to continually lobby Brussels or government for favourable regulatory and tax regimes.

We trade fairly and squarely on our own terms, ready to use our agility and flexibility to deal with whatever change in the markets comes our way.

Big business likes to stifle competition and discourage new players from entering the market. Despite public protestations to the contrary, they encourage, embrace – and often have a hand in writing the regulations that become those barriers to entry for entrepreneurs looking to innovate and compete.

And this is why big business has no problem with this deal. It’s why it campaigned to remain in the EU in the first place.

A protectionist bloc with a tariff barrier wall around it – keeping global competition out and as many rules as possible in. Encouraging scale and consolidation, not innovation and productivity.

Free trade with the rest of the world, with our external tariffs reduced to zero, would see a level playing field with companies competing based on quality, cost and inventiveness. Prices would go down, as we would not be forced to buy from expensive EU producers.

The UK has a service-dominated economy. If we want the countries of the world to buy those services, we will be expected to buy their goods in return. But we won’t be able to if we are locked into the EU rule book on goods. This is why saying we could still forge our own trade deals under this agreement is so misleading. Which countries will want to trade with us on such terms?

SMEs like mine want to trade, we want to compete, we are eager for the challenges that await us. We don’t need a deal that locks us into a system where there are no exits. We don’t need subsidies and handouts.

The Government’s EU Withdrawal Agreement lacks practicality and realism – two things that, as a business leader, you can’t do without.

We’re told that we must essentially remain in the customs union and the goods regime of the single market because of the Northern Irish border. Yet as someone who has spent their life in the technology industry, creating products and services that have never existed before, I can tell you that we can use British technological innovation to solve these border issues.

So, let’s free ourselves from the stifling standards of the Single Market. Let our small businesses buy from the world to lower prices for our consumers, replacing government aid with free trade.

The small business backbone of this country stands ready and eager to get on with the job, come 29th March 2019. 

I’ve spent the whole of my working life solving problems no one thinks can be solved. Don’t let anyone tell you that “no deal” cannot be done.

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Iain Dale: Why is the May making her case to 35 million people won’t vote on her deal? And not to 300 or so who will?

Plus: Keep the Brexit TV debate simple. Giving Allin-Khan and Duncan a piece of my mind. And: Carney – we’ve heard it all before.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

When you are fighting a political battle it’s a good idea to identify who your target audience is. I’m therefore somewhat perplexed by the Prime Minister’s strategy to embark on a whistle-stop campaigning tour of the country to sell her Brexit deal to voters.

The point is that the electorate as a whole won’t vote on December 11th – 650 MPs will. Shouldn’t Theresa May’s time be spent convincing her own MPs, rather than the generality of voters, to support her?  After all, they will now decide the fate of her Brexit deal, and indeed her own too.

There are echoes of 1990, when Margaret Thatcher thought her time would be better spent in Paris at a summit of world leaders than in the Commons tea room convincing her backbenchers. That worked out well…

– – – – – – – – – –

Almost as baffling is the Prime Minister’s decision to offer to debate the Leader of the Opposition on TV about the proposed Brexit deal.

Given its importance, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to seek to do so but, given her lack of willingness to debate Jeremy Corbyn directly during the last general election, it shows how desperate Number Ten have become. I suppose it’s the ‘sh*t or bust’ strategy.

Once again, her audience in this debate has to be her 315 colleagues rather than the country at large. A lot of hot air has been expelled on this debate by people desperate to muscle in on it. In the last few days we’ve had the ludicrous sight to both Boris Johnson and the People’s Vote campaign pleading to be let onto the stage too.

No doubt the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP think they should have a representative there too, not to mention the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the DUP. How utterly ridiculous.

May and Corbyn are the only two possible people who can negotiate a Brexit deal at present – the current Prime Minister, or the man who might be were a general election to take place. It would be preposterous to have anyone else on the stage apart from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

– – – – – – – – – –

I was on Politics Live on Tuesday with Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, and Alan Duncan, the Europe Minister.

Rosena is seen as a rising star in the Labour Party and is appearing everywhere in the media. I was, however, slightly disappointed that all she did throughout the programme was trot out the party line and a few vacuous soundbites.

OK, she’s a politician hoping to be promoted, but it was disappointing nonetheless. She argued that there was an exodus of companies leaving this country for the EU, and jobs are leaving the City of London in droves.

Patent nonsense – so I decided to take her on. I simply asked her to name one big company that had left the country because of Brexit. She couldn’t name a single one. Had I been quicker witted, I could have talked about the major Dutch publishing group which has relocated to London, or the fact that Chanel is moving here from Paris.

Alan Duncan also disappointed me by making specious claims about the links between Breitbart, the Leave campaign and the Russians. So I’m afraid he got the benefit of my views as well!

It’s the second time I have been on Politics Live, and I have to say I think it has really found its feet. It’s very different to its predecessor, the Daily and Sunday Politics, and no doubt cheaper to make, but in many ways it is much more watchable, and I suspect it has more ‘stickability’. If you like the guest lineup, I suspect you’ll stick with the whole programme rather than tune out halfway through.

– – – – – – – – –

It’s entirely right for the Bank of England to look at what effect the various forms of Brexit would have on the UK economy. What is not right for it to be partisan.

Mark Carney said he was not making predictions but looking at ‘scenarios’. Utter rot. If that was his aim he’d have modelled the various ‘best scenarios’ too, but those didn’t get a look in.

What about if the Eurozone collapses? What if the Italian banking sector collapses? Wouldn’t we be better off out in those circumstances? I’m afraid I take the Governor’s warnings with a respectful pinch of salt, because we’ve heard it all before.

Joel Davidson and Amir Sadjady: Treat claims of treason with disdain. As Leavers, we wholeheartedly back this agreement. Here’s why.

By remaining in a customs arrangement which retains high standards and open access, it will be good for London – and the rest of the country too.

Joel Davidson is a former councillor in Brent and was a London Assembly candidate in 2016. Amir Sadjady is a Conservative activist in Hammersmith.

We both campaigned enthusiastically for Vote Leave in London, and were delighted to see the real people’s vote, back in 2016, deliver a clear result that the UK wished to leave the European Union.

Since then, our Prime Minister has been buffeted by an extraordinary array of forces determined to scupper her: the bad faith of the EU, the even worse faith of the Labour Party leadership, and shrill celebrities determined to disparage anyone who voted Leave as little Englanders or, even worse, as closet racists. Despite all these obstructions, we now have a deal with the EU which does indeed – perhaps miraculously – put the UK on the brink of leaving the European Union, and regaining sovereignty in a huge swathe of areas.

We are consequently alarmed at some of the tropes being banded about by some hard Brexiteers, who seem completely opposed to any deal at all  One phrase which really sticks in the throat is that the Government is “betraying the 17.4 million voters who wanted to leave”. This is disingenuous at best, and we feel the need to challenge it here.

As we say, were amongst those 17.4 million voters who delivered the victory for Leave, with every vote carrying equal weight, and without these voters, the UK would be firmly inside the European Union and en route to fully joining a federal Europe.

But as it is, we now stand on the brink of a far looser relationship with the EU, with close trading links but an ending of  political union. We are confident that even supposedly ‘Remainiac’ London (where more people voted Leave in 2016 than those who had the misfortune of voting for Sadiq Khan) will be comfortable with this settlement.

For London, in particular, this deal will undoubtedly be beneficial, since businesses can be guaranteed that their current trading arrangements in goods with Europe will remain unaffected. There is tacit acknowledgement in this arrangement that a customs deal with Europe that maintains the highest European standards and gives British business access to European markets on an equal footing will unambiguously be good for business across the country.

This is another good reason for London Conservatives to get behind the deal: our businesses in London are high quality, and so we can only benefit from selling to our largest trading partner and closest neighbour in a completely unhindered way. So instead of wasting time chasing such rainbow as a second referendum, we London Conservatives should show that ours is the pragmatic party of business, and back this deal for the benefit of London’s economy.

We should also be taking Sadiq Khan to task for his complete no-show on this issue. Ever the world statesman in his own head, he has spent much of the last few months swanning around Brussels, trying to push to overturn Brexit whilst his city is submerged in a complete breakdown of law and order and his mismanagement of Crossrail leaves London’s economy imperilled.

Against all odds, the Prime Minister has produced a Withdrawal Agreement that very much ensures that “London Is Open” (to the chagrin of many in the ERG), so any competent, reasonable, pro-business mayor should be very happy with it. Not so Mayor Khan: his cynical tactics throughout the last two and a half years merely expose him again for the deeply partisan Labour apparatchik who enthusiastically backed Jeremy Corbyn in his infamous original winning leadership campaign.

The truth of Khan’s record is that he has no interest in helping business. If he did, he would have done something about the misery and economic chaos of the 14 tube strikes so far under his mayoralty. If he cared about helping small businesses, he would be acting to curb the breakdown of law and order on London’s streets, and would be taking action to clean up and rejuvenate London’s high streets. But he always prefers self-serving and self-written press releases to real action for Londoners.

To back up our view, we attended the Business Show 2018 recently at London’s ExCel, and had the pleasure of speaking to a wide range of business owners, of all sizes and across a range of sectors.  You can see the video we made about our visit here. We were struck by the near -nanimous consensus that emerged: any ambitious business sees maintaining the closest possible trading links with Europe as an unmitigated positive. Even smaller businesses that do not trade directly with Europe may be keen to in the future, and in the B2B sector, suppliers to large multinationals are massively impacted by the success of their main customers. By remaining in a customs arrangement with Europe which retains high standards and open access, the Government is giving British businesses of all sizes the ability to have greater control over its expansion plans.

The Prime Minister’s deal undoubtedly delivers for business, as well as on the referendum result which soft Leavers were crucial in determining. We see amidst the overwhelming and unrelenting media interest in all things Brexit a real opportunity for pro-business London Conservatives to regain our reputation in London as the party of competence and commerce by enthusiastically backing this deal in London and the South East.