Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
Most budgets are curate’s eggs. Good in parts. This one was no different.
Politically, it was a triumph for Brand Rishi. It was well delivered. His post-Budget press conference was slick and smooth. He comes across as a transparently nice and competent individual. That’s because he is.
But was it a budget with a narrative? Was it a “reset” budget? Was it a transformational budget? No, it was not.
It is possible to argue that it couldn’t be anything else than be a budget for the short term, given we have no idea where we will be this time next year, but even if you accept that argument, it disappointed on a number of levels.
The super-deduction measure was innovative and will have a massive event on investment over the next two years. And then it ends. It’s too short term, and should have surely been tapered.
Did corporation tax really need to be increased in one go by six per cent in two years’ time? Wouldn’t a gradual approach have been better, even if you accept it needed to rise. Which I do not.
It’s a tax rise which will inevitably make this country less likely to attract the levels of foreign inward investment in the long term. You can’t argue one day that lowering business taxes is a good thing and makes us more competitive, and then argue that by putting up corporation tax by a quarter still means that we are just as competitive.
Leaving the EU certainly gave some companies pause for thought about locating here, or increasing their presence here. We are lucky that most decided to go ahead anyway, but we do not need to give any company an excuse not to do so.
We may still have the fifth lowest rate of corporation tax among G20 countries, and yes, as Sunak argues, our rate will still be lower than in American, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.
But I’m afraid that argument cuts little ice in a world where the last thing the British government needs to do is do anything to put off businesses considering building a presence here.
Having said all that, two snap opinion polls show that the public approve the Budget with only 11 or 12 per cent disapproving. So from a political point of view, it was job done for the Chancellor. But I still wonder whether a bit more long term, “reset” thinking was needed and that both Sunak and the Government might come to regret that it was largely absent.
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If the pandemic hadn’t happened, surely this Budget would have been all about the post Brexit economy. Brexit wasn’t mentioned directly once in the Chancellor’s speech, although towards the end we heard a few oblique references.
What we needed was a pathway to the future, not just over the next couple of years, but over the next couple of decades. We needed a vision.
Businesspeople needed to be reassured about the future of our trading patterns, not just with the rest of the world, but with the EU. Too many businesses seem to be finding that the so-called “free trade agreement” with the EU is nothing of the sort. The inevitable bureaucratic teething problems in trading with EU countries are still there, two months on.
OK, there are no queues at Dover, but the attitude of (particularly, but not exclusively) of French customs officials leaves something to be desired. I hear time and time again reports that countries deal perfectly happily and efficiently with the US, China or even Russia, yet find it that deliveries to European customers are being returned to them by couriers with no explanation and on multiple occasions. They feel powerless to do anything about it.
And don’t get me started on the Northern Ireland protocol, whose only effect so far as I can see has been to effectively annexe Northern Ireland to the EU. Just as Martin Selmayr threatened.
The EU has no interest in Northern Ireland’s future prosperity. It just sees it as a mechanism to exert its power. It is a constitutional outrage that British companies are not free to trade without restriction to all parts of the sovereign United Kingdom. The checks that are now being demanded by the EU are so disproportionate as to be totally unreasonable. The British government bent over backwards to make a compromise to meet EU concerns that the Single Market could be compromised, but its goodwill has been exploited at every turn.
At some point this has to stop, and the unilateral extension of the grace period is the inevitable consequence of EU inflexibility. It is not, as the Irish government unhelpfully says, a breach of international law. What it is, is a sign that Britain’s patience with the EU on this issue is about to expire.
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I’ve been watching a new documentary on how Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election called The Accidental President.
It’s made by the British film maker James Fletcher, who is now based in New York. Fletcher will be familiar to many for his work filming David Cameron for the WebCameron project back in the day.
It’s a fascinating account of Trump’s rise to the presidency. There was no narration, no voiceover, just 90 minutes of original campaign footage together with lots of testimony from political commentators, eye witnesses and vox pops.
The most powerful moment was when commentators were asked to name Trump’s campaign slogan. They all trotted out “Make America Great Again”. They were then asked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan. None of them could recall it, bar one, who recalled it was “Stronger Together”. He then followed it up with “whatever that means”.
If proof were needed that political slogans can be all powerful, then we now have it.