It is time the Conservative and Labour parties united in support of a Canada+++ deal

What is going to happen if the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal fails to secure parliamentary support? Are we really facing a catastrophic “no deal” scenario? Very probably not. “No deal” – at least in its extreme form – is so obviously in nobody’s interest that it is very unlikely to happen. It is much more […]

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What is going to happen if the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal fails to secure parliamentary support? Are we really facing a catastrophic “no deal” scenario? Very probably not. “No deal” – at least in its extreme form – is so obviously in nobody’s interest that it is very unlikely to happen.

It is much more probable that Brexit will go ahead on 29th March 2019 but that – pending the outcome of further negotiations – common sense and practicality will prevail.  Most existing arrangements for trade and other forms of co-operation will continue substantially as they are for the time being. Albeit with some disruption, negotiations to find workable solutions for the future will continue.

Parliament and the UK generally – and the EU27 – will nevertheless have to make up their minds what they are aiming for. So far, the main ways ahead – both for Parliament and maybe for the electorate, if we have either a general election or even a second referendum, have been portrayed as a choice between reapplying to re-join the EU, accepting some variant of Chequers, or “crashing out”.

Not nearly enough has been heard recently of Canada+++. This could be a big mistake because – especially in the new situation in which we may well find ourselves – Canada+++ has very substantial advantages over other options.

First, it has always been the most obvious way of fulfilling the result of the EU referendum and all the promises about honouring its result that were made at the time, thus abiding by the critical democratic decision taken in the June 2016. This approach is very much in line with the policy laid out in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, before the Brexit negotiations got side-tracked into Chequers by the outcome of the 2017 General Election.

Secondly, with caveats about the Irish border discussed below. Canada+++ is an option which the EU27 have repeatedly offered to us – not least by Donald Tusk in March this year and by Michel Barnier again just recently.  It is easy to see why the EU27 should favour this approach. If the UK is out of the Single Market and the Customs Union, the integrity of these crucial components of the EU structure would not be compromised or destabilised. This has always been a primary – and understandable – aim of the EU27 negotiators.

Thirdly, Canada+++ would supply Leavers with pretty well all that they thought they were voting for in 2016, while also providing Remainers with an outcome with which at least the more reasonable among them ought to be able to accept, especially if trade between the UK and the EU27 was on the widest possible free trade basis.

Trade would not be quite as frictionless as “free movement”, but pretty close to it. Supply chains would not be disrupted. It is worth bearing in mind that although 36% of the bought in components for the UK car industry come from within the EU, 21% arrive from outside, imported into the UK on WTO terms.

Fourthly, Canada+++ has a better chance than any of the alternatives of providing the UK with a stable long-term relationship with the EU, reducing differences of opinion and approach  to Europe from being a constant source of friction and disharmony, distracting our MPs and many other people from addressing the many problems faced by the UK other than our relations with the EU27.

Fifthly, Canada+++ may provide us with a way of dealing with the Irish border issue. In a new negotiating environment, we would no longer be under the obligation to go along with the concessions made by the UK in December 2017. The UK could then agree unilaterally not to have a hard border, to implement electronic pre-clearance as soon as practical for larger companies, to provide local traders with exemptions, and to recognise that there might be some slippage to start with. If there are no tariffs to collect, this seems a small price to pay to overcome an otherwise intransigent issue.

The reason why Canada+++ has slipped down the agenda is because the Parliament elected in 2017 had no majority for any arrangements which left us outside the Single Market and the Customs Union. Now that everyone can see that trying to leave the EU while staying in either one or both of these constraints simply does not work, the advantages of a free trade deal with the UK outside both of them are increasingly obvious.

Of course, Canada+++ is not absolutely ideal from every point of view.  Nothing ever is. But from the perspective of both the heavily divided Conservative and Labour parties, it now looks like a much better option than anything else on the horizon.

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The Alliance of British Entrepreneurs is giving a voice to businesses which are positive and optimistic about Brexit

The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 recently gave coverage to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement that Britain will be welcomed into the Trans-Pacific Partnership with “open arms” after it leaves the EU. In a bizarre turn of phrase, the BBC presenter described this as a ‘tonic for Brexiteers’. The referendum – that decisive, […]

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The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 recently gave coverage to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement that Britain will be welcomed into the Trans-Pacific Partnership with “open arms” after it leaves the EU. In a bizarre turn of phrase, the BBC presenter described this as a ‘tonic for Brexiteers’.

The referendum – that decisive, once-in-a-generation ‘People’s Vote’ – took place on 23rd June 2016. Whether you voted Leave or Remain is now moot. To quote one MP: ‘We are all Brexiteers now’. The people of this country gave their clear instruction and the Government must deliver on it. Therefore, the BBC was incorrect. What Prime Minister Abe stated was not a tonic for Brexiteers but a tonic for the whole United Kingdom.

Yet from spring 2018 onwards we have witnessed a co-ordinated and unrelenting media assault on Brexit by multinational companies and their confederations. Day after day, the British public and its Government have been subjected to thinly-veiled threats from those corporations and interest groups with most to gain from the status quo. Their arguments about the dangers of Brexit have been allowed to percolate freely down into our national consciousness without any analysis or rebuttal. We presumed the battle was won and thus have surrendered the business argument.

Suddenly Brexit had stopped being a cut and thrust of differing opinions and become a torrent of carefully orchestrated negativity. What was missing was the voice of businesses that were positive and optimistic about the future of a sovereign Britain – the hundreds and thousands of smaller businesses with no lobbying power and fragmented representation who saw opportunity from Brexit as a catalyst for change. So it was that the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs (or, like the Japanese Prime Minister, ABE for short) was founded out of frustration by me and Ed Harden.

ABE set out to give those smaller businesses a banner under which to gather and a mouthpiece to amply their voice. Our great aim was to remind both the Government and the British public that business does not start and end with Airbus and the CBI. In late September, 200 of our business supporters wrote an open letter to the Daily Telegraph in support of a Canada-style free trade deal. We have since, in true entrepreneurial style, grown explosively, nearly doubling in size in a couple of weeks.

We are often asked why we refer to our business supporters as entrepreneurs. In our mind’s eye, it is easy to imagine an entrepreneur as a certain type of person. Someone involved in the tech industry perhaps. Someone modern, disruptive and metropolitan. Indeed, we have a number of supporters who fit those criteria. However, for ABE, being an entrepreneur is about a mindset. To us, entrepreneurship is characterised by adaptability and a positive outlook coupled with a firm sense of self-belief and a willingness to take responsibility. This definition transcends background, sector, geography or gender. As such, we are proud to have the backing of hundreds of entrepreneurs: from the sole traders in the West Midlands to the CEO of a London-based asset manager and all the family businesses, manufacturing firms, haulage companies and fishing boats in between.

Whilst we have had some initial success, we face two great challenges. The first of these is apathy.

Brexit didn’t end with the referendum. That vote was the first shot in a battle that is now being fought hand to hand in the mud with both sides dug in. The public at large are tired by years of political wrangling and are perplexed as to why it is taking so long. Even amongst those small businesses and entrepreneurs who feel passionately about the future of this country many are too busy running their day-to-day activities – investing, training and expanding – to devote time to campaigning. We have tried to counter this by doing their campaigning for them. Seeking their views on a light-touch basis and then doing the leg work to get them heard as one of a hundred voices singing the same tune.

The second great challenge was communication. SMEs don’t have corporate PR firms on eye-watering monthly retainers. Indeed, most don’t even have a separate media department. Even where there was the will to share their view, this was drowned out by the lobbying and closed forums of the big business and establishment set-up. We knew we lacked the resources to broadcast at a conventional level. Instead, using the power of social media and specific, targeted correspondence we have aimed to create enough noise to be heard. Our short-term goal has been to disrupt and interfere with the prevailing message of the big lobby groups. Every time they have a press release ready, we’ll be there putting one of our entrepreneurs forward with a counter that relates to their own business, hitting their statements with real world, real business rebuttals.

We admit that our entrepreneurs don’t and can’t always speak for their thousands of employees. But as the strategic decision-makers for those firms, they have looked at the future and seen a Britain that prospers outside the EU: a free-trading, dynamic Britain whose regulation stays lithe and reactive to changes in the global economy; a Britain that looks resolutely outwards and unrelentingly seeks out new global alliances and partnerships. This Britain cannot exist under the Chequers proposal. ABE will continue to lobby for a Canada-style free trade deal that respects the referendum and allows British business to once again take its place at the top table of global trade.

This great and noble opportunity must not be squandered.

Find our more about the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs at their website

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Why the UK economy should grow faster in the short term if there is no Brexit deal

Much of the current narrative regarding the Brexit negotiations goes something like this: “Brexit is likely to damage the economy in the short term. Even its advocates accept that. They said that even if there is a good free trade deal with the EU we should expect the economy to take a few years to […]

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Much of the current narrative regarding the Brexit negotiations goes something like this:

“Brexit is likely to damage the economy in the short term. Even its advocates accept that. They said that even if there is a good free trade deal with the EU we should expect the economy to take a few years to adjust, sacrificing perhaps two or three percent of GDP growth in the process. Now, they hope to get that back over the medium to longer term — Gerard Lyons talked during the Referendum campaign of a ‘Nike tick’ effect. But only a small set of economists, even amongst those that favoured Brexit, denied there would be short-term losses even if we do a good free trade deal with the EU.

“Well, then, if even a deal leads to short-term losses, how much worse must it be going to be in the short-term if there is no deal? That surely must be very bad indeed! Perhaps it could be so bad that it would undermine the Conservatives’ reputation for macroeconomic management, ushering in a Corbyn government in 2022?”

I think it is fair to say that some version of this narrative is near-universal. Even those keenest on no-deal are largely arguing that although no-deal is worse than the best sort of free trade agreement, at least in the short-term, that is worth doing through some combination of political gains and not sending the EU £40-odd billion we don’t owe them.

I think everyone’s wrong here, and I want to explain to you why. A good free trade agreement (something like a Canada+ deal) would be the best outcome for the UK economy over the longer-term — indeed, I cannot believe anything other than a Canada+ type Free Trade Agreement is sustainable for more than a few years. And if we do do a Canada+ deal, then I agree with those that say they expect the short-term impacts on GDP to be negative — we’ll sacrifice 2 percent or so of GDP growth by around 2022.

So, a deal is better than no-deal over the longer-term, and a deal will mean a short-term loss of GDP growth. But where the discussion goes wrong is in assuming that no-deal means bigger losses of GDP in the short-term. What would actually happen is (after we got through the first few weeks, say one quarter, of disruption, which might well include a non-trivial dip in GDP), GDP would grow faster in the short-term (say, the following 12-18 months) than if there had been a deal. Just because no-deal is undesirable for the economy in the longer term, it does not follow that that means we make bigger short-term losses.

Let me explain why. Let’s step through some of what will happen in the economy, once we leave the EU, and compare how that plays out in the event of a deal versus no-deal. First, let’s list some of the effects there will be, as per the following table.

We can see various ways UK imports will be affected, but it should be pretty uncontroversial that increased barriers to imports from the EU post-Brexit will mean fewer imports into the UK, at least in the short-term, as more of UK demand will be met by UK firms and less by EU-based firms exporting into the UK. Over the longer term, perhaps we will do more trade deals with non-EU countries or unilaterally strip away barriers to non-EU trade, and imports will end up unchanged or even higher. But in the short-term, it’s pretty clear we should expect imports to drop. It should also be pretty clear that in the event of no-deal, we’d expect imports to drop by more than if there is a deal.

Again, it should be pretty uncontroversial that Brexit will mean fewer exports to the EU, and probably fewer exports overall in the short-term, and that the impact will be larger if there is no deal than if there is a deal.

So, fewer imports and fewer exports, in the short term. Which effect will be bigger? Well, the UK is a larger net importer from the EU. We import about €4 worth of goods and services for every €3 we export. So if barriers to exporting and importing are fairly similar (as UK policy-makers would surely ensure they would be in most areas), the expected net impact will surely be a larger drop in imports than exports. So from this source, we’d expect a short-term boost to GDP, as net imports fell and the UK’s trade deficit improved.

Next, let’s consider capital flows. There is a great deal of press discussion of UK finance firms or car manufacturers relocating some activity into the EU to avoid barriers to trade. Perhaps there will be some of that (though so far it seems to be mainly talk), but even so, that is part of that €3 of exports going out. What we do not hear about are all the EU-based firms that would relocate activities into the UK to avoid barriers. Since there are €4 of those for every €3 coming in, we should expect that more EU-based activity has an incentive to relocate into the UK than in the opposite direction.

This is not quite so unambiguous as the imports/exports effect. Some firms exporting to the UK will also export to other EU markets and may face economies of scale losses in relocating into the UK, and it is arguable that economies of scale impacts may more often tend to affect EU-based than UK-based producers’ relocation decisions. So there is some interplay between inward flows, reduced imports and domestic investment. But the difference between €4 of exports and €3 of imports is so large that we should probably expect the effect to be positive nonetheless. And we should expect net inflows to be bigger if there is no deal than otherwise.

Next, effects on consumption. These depend upon whether consumers expect the long-term impacts to be positive or negative for GDP, and the extent to which they react to that in the short term. This one is difficult to call. I would guess there would be little change in the event of a deal and a slight drop in the event of a no-deal.

Last, domestic investment. This includes firms whose investment plans have depended upon our relationship with the EU that will do less investment or even liquidate investment. It also includes firms whose plans depend upon expansions in UK or non-EU activity. I believe it is natural to imagine that, even if the net impact on domestic investment is fairly balanced over the medium term, that will consist of a drop in domestic investment initially, as EU-dependent projects are cut back or liquidated, and the capital then only later being re-allocated to new UK-based or non-EU projects.

That drop in EU-dependent domestic investment is the main reason I expect there to be slower GDP growth in the event of a deal being done. If there is a deal, I’d expect fairly modest impacts on imports and exports in the short-term, and relatively modest short-term changes to capital flows, so the drop-off in domestic investment will probably be the dominant short-term impact, meaning slower GDP growth.

But if there is no deal, these other short-term impacts will be larger. Net imports will fall much more and there will be much larger inward and outward capital flows. So if there is no deal, I would expect those effects to dominate, outweighing the drop in domestic investment in the short run.

Overall, what does that mean? It means that, even though we should expect slower GDP growth in the event of a deal, and even though a deal is better for the economy over the medium term than no deal, if there is no deal then in the short-term we should expect GDP to grow faster, not slower.

I emphasise again that this would be after the first few weeks of drop-off in GDP associated with no-deal disruption. But it would be more than simple catch-up from disruption. It is a reflection of the basic dilemma that net importing countries always face. Free trade is good for economies over the medium to long term, but if a country is a net importer then it tends to gain output, in the short-term, in protectionist scenarios with greater trade barriers. There is no good reason to believe that this long-established basic economic truth should not be expected to apply to the UK in the case of Brexit as well.

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Brexit was the elephant in the room as Philip Hammond presented his Budget

Fiscal activism underpinned by a resilient and sound economy was the main message of this Budget. In recent months it became clear the budget deficit had turned the corner and was on a credible improving trend. The Chancellor has taken advantage of this not to pay down debt and achieve a balanced budget sooner, but […]

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Fiscal activism underpinned by a resilient and sound economy was the main message of this Budget. In recent months it became clear the budget deficit had turned the corner and was on a credible improving trend. The Chancellor has taken advantage of this not to pay down debt and achieve a balanced budget sooner, but rather opt for what he called a balanced approach to the public finances. This means spending more, not raising net taxes and instead allowing the budget deficit to persist, albeit at low levels. This fiscal year the budget deficit is 1.2% of GDP and is projected to be 0.8% by 2023/24.

Despite this, the Budget was trying to be all things to all people, and heavily interventionist, with 86 new tax and spending measures.

The Budget confirmed a sizeable net £103.5 billion fiscal boost over the six fiscal years from 2018/19 to 2023/24. Of this, £98.5 billion was increased spending, the vast bulk being the previously announced boost to NHS spending. For four of the six fiscal years, net tax cuts were announced, and these will be particularly large next year at £4.2 billion, led by an increase in personal tax allowances.

The Chancellor stressed a “Double Deal Dividend” but was unable – probably because of the ongoing negotiations – to focus on saying whether there will be any Brexit Dividend. Brexit was the elephant in the room. Of course, it is not just Brexit, but what you do when you leave the EU that is key and that will help deliver this dividend.

I agree with the idea of a Deal Dividend in that once there is clarity about what lies ahead then this will trigger a rebound in investment. Uncertainty over the last two years is likely to have dented or delayed investment plans. The Double Deal, as the Chancellor called it, is that he is keeping back some fiscal fire power in case he needed to act and boost demand in the event of a No Deal. But it is the Brexit Dividend – including how to spend domestically the sizeable sums we send to the EU, as well as delivering a pro-growth economic agenda – that is key.

The economy has suffered from a lack of demand. But it also needs a supply side agenda too and the Chancellor was right to acknowledge this. Given this, the economic and fiscal numbers were credible.

The good news is that the budget numbers are on an improving trend. As long as the market believes the projections are credible, and borrowing rates stay low, then the current economic environment provides a powerful dynamic in which the budget deficit can fall further, as it did post-war when public debt plummeted from 240 per cent of GDP. Last year’s debt of 85.2 per cent of GDP was a peacetime high and is projected today to fall to 74.1% by 2022/23.

This Budget was partially aimed at showing austerity is over. The trouble is, there is no clear definition of this, but you tend to know it when you see it. For many, it will mean an end of the squeeze on departmental budgets – and we will have to wait until next year’s Comprehensive Spending Review to see what will happen, particularly to the previously non-ring-fenced areas.

While I am an advocate of fiscal activism, the reality is that the UK needs to save in good times to be able to spend in bad. It did not do this and the financial crisis blew the fiscal numbers off course. Not only did austerity restrain demand at a time when the economy needed it, but also the government then missed the opportunity to borrow at record low rates to fund necessary infrastructure. Now, one could argue tax cuts should be high on the agenda, hence it is welcome that personal tax allowances were raised from next year.

Ending austerity should not mean unlimited public spending. There clearly needs to be ongoing reform, including regional wage policies. Ending austerity should not mean keeping taxes high to fund spending. It also does not mean sacrificing capital spending to fund current expenditure. Thankfully the Budget showed both a desire to avoid further tax hikes, an aim for cuts and to protect capital spending plans.

It is important to appreciate that the margin of error on these one year ahead fiscal numbers is huge. Thus, we should resist the temptation to aggregate forecast changes over the next five years, as it makes little sense to do so. The key is: what happens to growth?

The trouble is the UK’S economic picture is one of low growth, low inflation and, presumably, low interest rates. The UK’s trend rate of growth has previously been revised down since the global financial crisis. At this Budget the growth forecast was tweaked lower by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), to 1.3%, and higher from 1.3% to 1.6% for next, and averaging around 1.5% up to 2023.

This leaves the UK vulnerable to any global setback. Vital is what happens to productivity growth and this would be boosted by increased investment and innovation – and it is helpful there were incentives to try and boost these. I would not be surprised if UK growth in 2019 is higher than expected: as consumption could be boosted by rising wages, higher employment and the announcement of an increase in personal allowances from next spring, while a Brexit deal would likely boost investment.

The most striking aspect is that the OBR projects a further 800,000 jobs by 2023, bringing to 4.2 million the net new jobs since 2010. This puts to shame Project Fear’s misplaced projection of massive job losses in the wake of a vote to leave.

Previously I have described the EU as like the Titanic. Despite warnings of impending problems and the need to reform, it will not change direction and we are lucky to be jumping ship. The trouble is, after a Budget like this, and with a Chequers Deal pending, the UK is in danger of becoming like the Marie Celeste – in touch of the new world, it is being left to drift with no-one at the helm. One hopes that once a credible deal is agreed the sense of direction will be clearer.

What about a no deal? Clearly we want to avoid a no deal, but a valid question is that the implied threat on the eve of the Budget that if there was no deal then the Chancellor would have to take action to make Britain universally competitive – including cutting taxes and easing the regulatory burden on firms, as well as to use fiscal policy to provide support to the economy – was a bizarre one. It must surely have been aimed at our EU neighbours, to encourage them to reach a deal.

But one wonders why this is couched in a threat and should it not be the focus of policy now – deal or no deal? Of course, the Chancellor is constrained from pushing this, while the negotiations are ongoing, but it should highlight that the UK should be in a better position once it can determine its own post-Brexit destiny. Of course, this makes it vital we do not box ourselves in with a Chequers-style deal and instead edge towards a free trade agreement like Canada Plus.

Photocredit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

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