Dutch say hundreds of companies plotting Brexit switch

The Netherlands says it has attracted 1,923 jobs and €291 million in investment, and plans a lot more.

The Dutch government said it helped 42 companies move to the country in 2018 because of Brexit and is in talks with more than 250 others about a switch, according to a report out today.

The companies — including Japanese investment bank Norinchukin and media company TVT — translated into 1,923 jobs and €291 million in investment, the government report said.

The figures also includes the transfer of the EU’s European Medicines Agency from London and the opening of new office space by financial service providers such as MarketAxess and Azimo, in addition to shipping insurer UK P&I Club.

“These [newcomers] are predominantly British companies, but also American and Asian organizations that are reconsidering their current European structure due to uncertainties caused by Brexit,” the Dutch ministry said.

In 2017, only 18 companies transferred operations. The report said both Bloomberg and Discovery were also planning extra investment, according to figures collated by the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, which works under the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.

In the race to attract jobs and investment from the U.K., the Dutch did concede they face competition from Germany, France and Ireland in picking over the Brexit spoils.

“Due to the growing international uncertainty surrounding Brexit and changing global trade policies, the importance of a good Dutch business climate for all of us is continually increasing,” said Eric Wiebes, minister of economic affairs and climate policy.


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EU powers set up firm to thwart Trump’s Iran sanctions

Company is meant to allow Europeans to keep doing business with Tehran.

The EU’s effort to thwart U.S. President Donald Trump’s Iran sanctions is open for business.

France, Germany and the U.K. — the European guarantors of the Iran nuclear accord — announced Thursday that they had officially established a corporate “special purpose vehicle,” registered in Paris, to help European companies that want to continue doing business with Iran despite Trump’s renewed sanctions.

The corporate vehicle will facilitate business deals with Iran without using the dollar or the U.S. financial system and will essentially structure sales as indirect transactions — steps that the Europeans believe will technically avoid violations of the U.S. sanctions.

The special purpose vehicle is called INSTEX, for Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges. It had been in development for months, since shortly after Trump last May declared the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear accord, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The official announcement was made by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Bucharest, Romania where they were attending a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers.

Russia and China have also stuck with the accord despite Trump’s withdrawal.

The establishment of the special purpose vehicle is the most visible and substantive rebuke of Trump’s foreign policy by European allies that have disagreed with many of the American president’s decisions, including his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords and his relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Washington said it was still examining the new entity but issued a stern warning against violating U.S. sanctions.

“Entities that continue to engage in sanctionable activity involving Iran risk severe consequences that could include losing access to the U.S. financial system and the ability to do business with the United States or U.S. companies,” the State Department said in a statement.

INSTEX was registered in Paris using the address of the French Ministry of Economy and Finance. France, Germany and the U.K. are joint shareholders and the entity’s president is Per Fischer, a veteran German banker who spent many years as a senior executive of Commerzbank.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Drian, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, in Bucharest | Daniel Mihailescu/AFP via Getty Images

It is not clear how many businesses will make use of INSTEX and tempt the wrath of the Trump administration. Many are loath to risk losing access to the far larger and more lucrative U.S. market in order to maintain far less profitable dealings with Iran.

But even if it gets limited use, the creation of INSTEX is an important symbolic step, providing concrete evidence to Iran of Europe’s continued commitment to the JCPOA. Russia and China have also stuck with the accord despite Trump’s withdrawal.

Many experts believe that the key to preserving the JCPOA is maintaining Tehran’s commitment and the creation of INSTEX potentially helps answer Iranian critics who have been urging the government to withdraw in response to Trump. In Europe, the hope is that Tehran will hold on long enough for Trump potentially to be voted out of office.

The EU and the European powers insist that Tehran has been living up to its commitments under the agreement, citing 13 reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Separately, the EU has taken steps to punish Tehran over allegations of military meddling throughout the Middle East and at least two assassination attempts on European soil. But the EU has insisted that those issues should not be conflated with the JCPOA, which they say has successfully halted Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“The lifting of sanctions is an essential dimension of the JCPOA,” the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, said in a statement praising the creation of INSTEX. “The instrument launched today will provide economic operators with the necessary framework to pursue legitimate trade with Iran.”

“The European Union continues to be committed to the full and effective implementation of the JCPOA in all its aspects as long as Iran continues to implement in full all its nuclear commitments, as set out by the agreement,” Mogherini said, adding: “This is a matter of respecting international agreements and of advancing our shared regional and international security.”

“Today we have taken a significant step forward in delivering our commitment under the Iran nuclear deal to preserve sanctions relief for the people of Iran,” Hunt, the British foreign secretary, said in Bucharest. “This is a clear, practical demonstration that we remain firmly committed to the historic 2015 nuclear deal struck with Iran.”


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Le Maire: Up to Britain to find a way through Brexit impasse

No prospect of renegotiating EU Brexit deal, French minister says.

It is “clearly on the shoulders of the British government” to secure a stable Brexit deal, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Friday, insisting that the EU has “nothing more to give” on the Withdrawal Agreement.

“Of course, we are always open to clarifications, but reopening the deal would mean weeks, months of new negotiations between the U.K. and the European member states, that’s exactly what we want to avoid,” Le Maire told the BBC’s Today program.

Warning that a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for Britain and would have “consequences” across the European Union, the French minister appeared to quash hopes among some British MPs that there could still be room to compromise over the Irish backstop — a guarantee of no hard border on the island in the absence of a broader trade deal.

“It’s done,” Le Maire said. “It’s quite complicated.”

Away from Brexit, Le Maire urged that “capitalism must change” and be “fairer” to meet the needs of many people who feel left behind and left out of globalisation. “Otherwise, we run the risk of having a new political crisis,” he warned.

France is no stranger to the growing disenchantment of those who feel left behind, with the ongoing, and often violent, Yellow Jackets protest movement.

Le Maire pointed to France’s decision to impose a nationwide digital tax on corporate giants as an example of working towards a “fairer and more efficient” capitalism, that would boost France’s international influence and help its many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“We strongly believe that there is a need for a minimum corporate tax at the international level, because we don’t want the biggest companies of the world escaping the taxation system. We will put that proposal … as a key priority of the French G7,” he said.

France holds the presidency this year of the Group of Seven wealthy nations.

More broadly, Le Maire urged Europe to “reinforce,” or risk falling way behind China and the United States.

“What do we want? Do we want to be scratched by China or the U.S., or do we want to be a sovereign continent, being able to have its own technologies, a strong economy and safe borders?”

“That’s the question for my generation,” he said.


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Daniel Hannan: What is driving this chaos? I’ll tell you. The EU is determined to punish us.

In English, Barnier said: “I’ll have done my job if, in the end, the deal is so tough on the British that they’d prefer to stay in the EU”.

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

You want a one-sentence explanation for the chaos in our politics, the breakdown of our party system, the shenanigans at Westminster? OK, here it is. It’s important, so I’ll put it in the original French first.

“J’aurais réussi ma mission si, à la fin, le deal est tellement dur pour les Britanniques qu’ils préféront rester dans l’Union.”

In English: “I’ll have done my job if, in the end, the deal is so tough on the British that they’d prefer to stay in the EU”.

The speaker, as you have probably guessed, is Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. He is reported in the French current affairs weekly Le Point as having spoken those words to EU leaders in 2016. The article adds that most of the leaders shared his view, as well as that of Jean-Claude Juncker, who said that Brexit must be a form of “punishment” for deserters.

There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the quotation. It accords with everything the EU has said and done since the referendum result was announced. Brussels negotiators have dragged their feet over the smallest things, while all the time publicly telling us that “the clock is ticking”. They have made a series of demands that they know to be outrageous, and that they would never dream of making of any other country, including a period of non-voting membership, the regulatory annexation of Northern Ireland and EU control of our trade policy after we leave. As Donald Tusk put it, quite overtly, in the aftermath of Parliament’s rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement last week, “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” Got that? The British people may have voted to leave, but we have made all the alternatives so unappealing that they’ll simply have to back down.

The normal British reaction to such blackmail would be to bridle at the threat and dig in in defence of democracy. In a healthy polity, even those who had voted Remain would be appalled by the bullying tone, and would rally around a policy that honoured the referendum result.

But our polity is far from healthy at present. In the debilitating culture war that followed the referendum, plenty of British politicians and commentators were determined to side with Brussels, however unreasonable its demands. Although many Remainers accepted the referendum result in good faith, some Europhile peers, MPs and businessmen were determined to overturn it. They therefore lined up behind even the most preposterous EU positions, because they shared the goal of making Brexit so painful that Britain would drop the whole idea.

They didn’t put it that way, of course, at least not in public. Instead, they would typically say things like, “The EU has to follow its own rules, you can’t enjoy the privileges of the club without being a member, what else did you Eurosceptics expect?”

The notion that the EU is simply following its own rules is almost too silly to merit refutation. The EU rarely fusses about its rules (qv deficits, bailouts etc) and it certainly isn’t doing so here. It refused to offer either the close relationship that it has with Norway or Switzerland (the EU never asked them to join the customs union), or the simple trade deal that it has with Canada (it did not demand regulatory control of New Brunswick). Had any other country made the offer that Britain made at Salzburg last summer, namely to match EU environmental and labour laws, unilaterally adopt its standards on physical goods and pay for the privilege – Brussels officials would have snapped it up incredulously. But, of course, the aim was not to get the best deal for the 27. It was to come up with something “tellement dur pour les Britanniques qu’ils préféront rester dans l’Union.”

If you have any doubts, look at the deal that the UK struck with Switzerland last month. Known by officials as “mind the gap”, it ensures that relations between the two countries will not be prejudiced, even in a no-deal Brexit. Five sectoral accords, covering aviation, ground transport, free trade, financial services and citizens’ rights, will ensure continuity in all circumstances. That’s how straightforward things can be with goodwill on both sides.

Sadly, our negotiators never faced up to the fact that Brussels did not want a mutually beneficial deal. Eurocrats could hardly have been clearer. Theresa May kept saying she wanted the EU to succeed; her EU counterparts kept responding that they wanted Brexit to fail. And yet, absurdly, we pursued a strategy of being nice in the hope that our goodwill might be reciprocated. We agreed to the EU’s sequencing, we wrote a cheque with no trade deal in return, we accepted non-voting membership (the “implementation period”, though no one now pretends there will be anything to implement), we swallowed the backstop. In each case, the EU pocketed the concession without softening.

So what now? We have stupidly weakened our position over the past 30 months, but our least bad option is clear enough. We should scrap the backstop, propose an alternative legal guarantee against physical infrastructure at the Irish border, and ratify the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The EU might refuse to reciprocate, of course. It would be an odd decision – if the backstop is off the table, you’d think that agreeing the other bits, such as reciprocal citizens’ rights, would be uncontentious – but the Barnier doctrine may well require Brussels to inflict needless disruption on all sides rather than allow a cordial Brexit. If so, it would be final, irrefutable proof that the EU is uninterested in the welfare of its peoples, having elevated closer union to the status of a religious dogma. Could anyone, in those circumstances, doubt that we were right to leave?

Chaotic Brexit getting ‘dangerously close’: German business group

BDI president warns of weaker German growth in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Germany’s BDI business group said Thursday it feared a “chaotic Brexit” was “dangerously close,” and warned that such an outcome could dent German economic growth.

“A chaotic Brexit is now getting dangerously close to happening,” BDI President Dieter Kempf said in Berlin. “Companies are looking into the abyss in these times.”

“Businesses on both sides of the English Channel have no choice but to now fully prepare for a hard Brexit,” he said.

Kempf, who was presenting the group’s annual growth report for Europe’s largest economy, said that in the event of an orderly Brexit he expected the German economy to grow by 1.5 percent this year, but he stressed that growth would be weaker than that if there were major disruptions to trade between Britain and the EU.

“There’s no time for hangovers,” Kempf said, referring to Prime Minister Theresa May’s historic parliamentary defeat Tuesday. “The economy now expects quick answers on how to proceed.”

The BDI chief said protectionism and populism were no solutions to European challenges. “The road back to nationalism is a dead end. Europe is not the cause, but the solution to many problems — and the economy is always part of the solution.”


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A Withdrawal Deal is achievable in principle and executable in practice before Brexit

In light of last night’s developments, as Parliament starts to consider what would make for an executable framework for much of the UK’s economic future, one thing has become clear: the Withdrawal Agreement must be changed – renegotiated. For that to happen, the enduring interests of each party, the UK and the EU, must be […]

The post A Withdrawal Deal is achievable in principle and executable in practice before Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.

In light of last night’s developments, as Parliament starts to consider what would make for an executable framework for much of the UK’s economic future, one thing has become clear: the Withdrawal Agreement must be changed – renegotiated.

For that to happen, the enduring interests of each party, the UK and the EU, must be recalled so that a politically viable outcome can be reached. For its part, the UK seeks a deal on services which account for 80 per cent of its economy. By contrast the EU seeks a deal on goods, to protect its valuable surplus. Both parties want the benefits of as frictionless trade as possible. Beyond trade, wider collaboration is sought in certain areas, such as security.

But for the UK, the current draft Withdrawal Agreement falls short of what is needed on two key counts: sovereignty and trade.

The Agreement gives away sovereignty, leaving the UK with no say over any of its laws during a transitional period, and then no say at all over chunks of laws thereafter. Restoring constitutional sovereignty was a referendum decision and must be respected if any agreement is to take off.

For trade, the draft Withdrawal Agreement cannot work if EU interests for a quasi-customs union are prioritised along with elements of the Single Market for goods, but only warm words are offered for the UK’s interests in services, including financial services.

In the Political Declaration, which was a simultaneous but non-binding declaration of intent, the parties stated their wishes for a wide-ranging trade deal, involving mutual recognition on services and enhanced equivalence for the financial sector. Yet the current proposal to put services ‘on hold’ to be negotiated in a transitional period, would bring uncertainty and dangers for all. During that time the UK regulators would be without the powers often needed to change rules dynamically to protect taxpayers. Though such a transition period may be workable for goods, it cannot be for services. So though we see good intentions for services trade, the execution falls short.

In fact, a viable overall arrangement in skeletal form can be agreed even now without the need for the alternative of a managed no-deal. Perhaps inevitably, this reflects the EU’s typically last minute way.

How could this be achieved? The concept of Enhanced Equivalence is one which I set out in detailed legislative form in July 2017. This would provide financial businesses with what they need, enabling them to operate across Europe under one set of regulations and subject to one supervisor, replicating the status quo. It would avoid the costs of setting up duplicative regimes which are charged back to consumers, to the detriment of businesses and savings within the EU27.

Under Enhanced Equivalence, when the parties’ laws achieve equivalent outcomes, businesses can provide services in the other market under their home jurisdiction’s regulations and supervision. We already have executable text, providing for exactly that and achieving procedural certainty for the granting and withdrawal of equivalence in each financial sector. Temporary recognitions could tide the parties over for four months to finalise any details. A similar approach would work for mutual recognition in other services. The reality is that each party would be starting with not just equivalent laws, but they often move even now in a similar direction.

In practice, the EU’s artificial mantra that no trade deal can be negotiated until the UK is a third country can be circumvented for services by a mutual recognition agreement rather than a free trade agreement.

There are good reasons for the EU to agree. The eurozone needs the UK to continue to treat its member state government bonds as sovereign for regulatory purposes, ignoring a proper application of international regulatory standards and avoiding crippling costs. To assist, the UK needs full, dynamic control over all other protective regulatory levers. Enhanced Equivalence achieves just that. Also, the UK cannot be expected to agree to every other aspect of the deal so favourable to the EU unless the EU reciprocates.

The practicalities are close to the intended agreed position anyway. In financial services, the EU is already making unilateral declarations of equivalence across key areas such as cleared derivatives, allowing a continuation of current arrangements even on a hard Brexit. More declarations are likely, preserving the competitiveness of continental EU financial institutions and the ability of EU citizens to obtain access to cheap finance.

As the negotiations inch their way towards a system that can work, the UK’s whole economy must be brought to the fore.  That means services must be covered and constitutional essentials recognised. Otherwise, nobody ends up with what they want.

The post A Withdrawal Deal is achievable in principle and executable in practice before Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.

German industry seeks to push harder EU line on China

Europe’s industrial heartland signals it wants tougher policies from the next Commission.

German industry today launched a major offensive to ensure the next European Commission will take a harder line on China.

Ahead of this year’s European election, Germany’s most influential industry federation is calling on Brussels to ramp up EU defenses against what it sees as unfair competition from Beijing.

Crucially, its 54-point plan, obtained by POLITICO, seeks a bigger role for the European Commission’s powerful competition unit as the EU tries to combat China’s subsidized exports, industrial overcapacity and corporate buy-outs.

The proposals from the Federation of German Industries (BDI) offer a sign that Berlin and the EU are likely to gravitate toward a tougher position against Beijing after the departure of the more China-friendly U.K. from the 28-member bloc.

“The People’s Republic is establishing its own political, economic and social model,” said BDI President Dieter Kempf. Politicians could no longer afford to “simply ignore the challenges China poses to the EU and Germany,” he added.

A tougher line on China from Germany would align Berlin more closely with Paris.

“A battle of economic models is emerging,” the BDI said in Thursday’s paper.

A tougher line on China from Germany would align Berlin more closely with Paris. It would, however, also revive charges of hypocrisy from countries such as Portugal and Greece, which argue that Germany pushed them to sell off prized assets to the Chinese during the financial crisis. Germany’s critics say Berlin has only recently woken up to the risks posed by strategic Chinese buy-outs in sectors with core know-how such as robotics.

Battle of the systems

The BDI plan represents a major shift in the way German businesses think and talk about China, which American and French officials often criticized as naïve.

For many years, the Chinese economy was seen as largely complementary to Germany’s: China produced cheap consumer goods and components, while Germany produced larger machines and hi-tech products.

China’s President Xi Jinping (R) meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 24, 2018 | Jason Lee – Pool photo/Getty Images

When the European solar cell industry was wiped out by subsidized Chinese competitors, the German economy ministry saw it as the price to be paid to maintain good relations with Beijing, which was more than offset by Germany’s sales of luxury cars to the Middle Kingdom.

But as China moves up the value chain, Chinese subsidies pose an increasing threat to the German model. Chinese producers have now entered into direct competition with many traditional German champions.

As one of its lines of defense, the BDI on Thursday came out staunchly in favor of mergers that allow companies to bulk up into European champions. This is a subject of hot debate as Franco-German plans to merge Alstom and Siemens into a rail champion are meeting fierce headwinds over fears the two will form an uncompetitive behemoth in the EU. The Germans argue that EU regulators should take a more global perspective when calculating the effects of merger concentrations, and not just look at the harm to consumers in Europe.

France leads the charge for reciprocity but Britain and Sweden argue such measures would be counter-productive.

To fight Chinese subsidies, the BDI wants hard-hitting options on the table. EU state-aid rules only apply to European companies receiving subsidies, but the BDI wants these extended to cover “subsidies outside the EU.” The bloc should also consider creating a new mechanism for “subsidy control” to assess whether takeovers are financed with subsidies, the BDI argued.

But the group also suggests fighting fire with fire. This could mean taking account of “reciprocity” in tenders for big public procurement contracts like roads and railways. To date, France has led the charge for reciprocity, which means closing EU tenders to bids from companies based in (particularly Asian) countries that restrict European access to tenders on their soil. Free trading countries such as Britain and Sweden have long argued that such measures would be counter-productive and would close European markets to the best-value bids.

Changing the focus on Chinese takeovers

The BDI also called on the EU to change its approach to the Chinese state’s influence in mergers and acquisitions.

The European Commission’s directorate-general for competition has long been under pressure to take a more holistic view of how it values the market power of Chinese enterprises owned or steered by the state. The EU often treats each state-owned company as a separate entity. This limits the perception by regulators that a company could be distorting competition by coordinating with other limbs of the Chinese state. The BDI is calling for updated rules that would allow the Commission to consider those companies as part of a bigger market player: China Inc. This would expand Brussels’ powers to crack down on buy-outs.

European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said on Wednesday that he was “open … to look at the competition policy due to the changing market.”

Many EU countries have pledged to push for “evolutions of the European rules applicable to competition and state aid.”

In a little-noticed statement just before Christmas, 18 EU countries also called on the next Commission to rethink its industrial policy, specifically calling for changes to competition rules.

France, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain said they would push for “possible evolutions of the European rules applicable to competition and state aid” particularly to “review the state aid framework to … promote the competitiveness of European industry at international level.”

The countries also called for updating antitrust rules to “better take into account international markets and competition in merger analysis.”

The BDI also stressed the value of so-called matching clauses, which have been overlooked as a potential weapon in EU state-aid policy. These clauses allow EU countries to offer state aid to investors to keep business in Europe, by matching the subsidies the companies are being offered by a rival such as China or Mexico.

German industry says it wants the scope of these matching clauses to be ramped up. The BDI sees such subsidies as an interim measure until the EU works out how to export its anti-subsidy standards internationally.

This article is from POLITICO Pro: POLITICO’s premium policy service. To discover why thousands of professionals rely on Pro every day, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.


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World Bank warns no-deal Brexit risks wider economic impact

Impact of no-deal Brexit would be felt from Eastern Europe to North Africa, institution says.

A no-deal Brexit would have an economic impact far beyond Britain, according to the World Bank’s latest Global Economic Prospects report.

In its six-monthly report, the U.S.-based bank looks at the possible scenario of the U.K. crashing out of the EU without a trade agreement, and warns more broadly that a recovery in emerging markets and developing economies (EMDE) has lost momentum due to tightening global financing conditions and intensified trade tensions.

Specifically on Brexit, the World Bank says a no-deal exit “is a risk to the UK and to Europe and any region that trades heavily with them. It means that countries in Eastern Europe, like Moldova and as far away as Georgia, and those in North Africa will be affected,” said Franziska Ohnsorge, the report’s author.

The report warns that disorderly financial market developments could prove harmful to activity in the affected economies, leading to contagion effects. It predicts an escalation of trade disputes.

The bank forecast a drop in global average economic growth to 2.9 percent this year and 2.8 percent in 2020, from 3 percent in 2018.


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UK MPs to vote on Brexit deal on January 15

Theresa May had delayed the vote on the deal agreed with the EU before Christmas.

LONDON — The House of Commons will vote on the Brexit withdrawal deal next Tuesday, January 15, Prime Minister Theresa May told her Cabinet today.

The debate will be opened again Wednesday by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and will be closed by May next Tuesday, her spokesman told journalists at a briefing today.

May had delayed the vote on the deal agreed with the EU27 leaders before Christmas to seek further assurances over the Northern Irish backstop, amid opposition from her own MPs.


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Michael Fabricant: It’s high time for us to rediscover our gung-ho spirit

Here in America, those I meet are surprised by Britain’s reluctance to let go of the apron strings that seem to tie us to the EU.

Michael Fabricant is MP for Lichfield.

One of the many old jokes in the Carry On films is: “where is all your get up and go?” The answer comes: “it got up and went.” It seems, sometimes, that half the population feels that way, when I read some of the more depressing letters and articles about Brexit in the national press.

I travel to the United States three or four times each year – not for fact-finding at taxpayer’s expense, I hastily add – but with and to see friends. I was part-educated at the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!) and still have a home on the east coast near where my business had a base in New Haven, Connecticut. So before I became an MP I travelled a lot to the US on business, too.

I’m there right now – in San Diego, southern California. But thanks to the internet, I was able to hear Woody Johnson, the US Ambassador to the UK, on the Today programme yesterday. He was clear that the present terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration will prevent the US (or any other major economy, come to that) from entering into a Free Trade Agreement with the UK.

But the main issue expressed by Johnson – and Americans that I meet over here – is the surprise at Britain’s reluctance to let go of the apron strings that seem to tie us to the EU.

It’s a lack of self-confidence that might be appropriate in a developing country, but in not the fifth-largest world economy, which can boast more Nobel Prize winners than any other country apart from the US; intelligence services which match those anywhere in the world, three of the world’s top ten universities, with the top two places being British, and a major centre for biotech and space research. Why are we so timid in our dealings with Europe?

In Prime Minister’s Questions a few weeks’ back, Jeremy Corbyn claimed that the UK has “no leverage” with the EU.  No leverage? We are the biggest export market in the world for the German automotive industry – bigger than the US and Chinese markets combined. And Emmanuel Macron knows that the ranks of the gilets jaunes would be increased tenfold if French farmers could not export to their number one market – the United Kingdom.

So why all this timidity by government and civil servants in dealing with the EU, and the fear of leaving the EU by so many in the British population at large?

Friends of mine working in the City for large American banks admit that they explored the possibility of moving to Paris, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt after the referendum. But they soon realised that continental Europeans neither have the financial work pool nor the work ethic to keep long hours deep into the night when the need arises. Those plans to move were soon abandoned.

Johnson can see the opportunities open to the UK in leaving the UK and from being unshackled from the ball and chain of rules so beloved of European regulators. My American friends over here say to me “Why are you guys so lacking in self-confidence? We just don’t get it. Just leave!”

Having been in business and travelled abroad extensively exporting broadcasting systems to some 48 countries worldwide, I can see the huge opportunities that will be open to us after a clean break with the EU.

It is unfortunate that many commentators on Brexit, including journalists and some politicians, never had the get up and go in the first place. The gung-ho spirit eludes them. We should not allow their lack of aspiration and gloom to frustrate the opportunities that are there if only we have the confidence to seize them.