Natasha Hausdorff: The proscription of Hezbollah is welcome – though overdue

It will be a significant step forward in keeping this heinous organisation from inciting hatred on our streets.

Natasha Hausdorff is a barrister and a Conservative activist.  She was recently a Pegasus Scholar and Fellow in the National Security Law Programme at Columbia Law School in New York. 

The Home Secretary’s decision today to proscribe the whole of the Lebanon based Hezbollah terrorist organisation is significant and long-overdue, not least because of the organisation’s antisemitic ideology and targeting of Israeli civilians. Once affirmed by Parliament, the UK’s approach to Hezbollah will be brought into line with that of the United States, Canada, Japan, Israel and the Netherlands.

Since July 2008, the so-called ‘military wing’ of Hezbollah has been on the list of proscribed organisations that are “concerned in terrorism”, pursuant to Section 3 and Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or otherwise invite support for a proscribed organisation. However, until now, an arbitrary distinction between supposed political and military ‘wings’ left certain support for the group lawful in the UK.

Hezbollah has perpetrated atrocities around the world, from Buenos Aires to Bulgaria. Its terror activity has included hostage taking, airline hijacking, and bombing, including blowing up a US Marine barracks killing more than 300 US and French servicemen in Lebanon. The group has also assassinated diplomats and policy makers in the Middle East, the US and Asia. The original proscription in the UK coincided with the discovery that Hezbollah had been targeting British soldiers in Iraq. Acting as an Iranian proxy, it has killed thousands of innocents and continues its butchery in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, promoting Iran’s regime of terror in the region.

While some terror organisations feign non-violence, Hezbollah itself has never gone in for such a masquerade. The organisation makes no such distinction between its military and political affairs, because terror is its fundamental ideology and raison d’etre.  Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, explained in clear terms: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other…every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority”.

This sentiment has been echoed by other top officials, including Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s current Secretary General, and Ibrahim Mussawi, its spokesman. And this unity of purpose is considered to be an essential component of the group’s perceived success; Qassem stressed to a Lebanese paper in 2000 the importance of “one leadership, with one administration”.

It is bizarre that we in the UK have sought to maintain a distinction which is at odds with the pretty straightforward position articulated by Hezbollah leaders.  The artificial division between ‘wings’ has also been a dangerous one. Exploitation of the loophole created by this approach has allowed Hezbollah flags to be flown with impunity on the streets of London. The organisation has one flag, which displays an image of a Kalachnikov rifle, combined with a Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifle, clenched in a raised fist. Individuals displaying the Hezbollah flag at the annual ‘Al Quds Day’ march in London have been shielded from prosecution under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act, under which it is an offence to carry or display an article “in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion [of being] a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation”.

That the current legislation allows open support for this terrorist organisation on our streets has been raised repeatedly with the police and the Home Office by concerned community organisations. It would seem that these efforts have finally paid off. Undoubtably, full proscription ought also to affect the future approach of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. This move sends a clear message that we will no longer tolerate incitement and celebration of terror on the streets of the UK.

The news of full proscription is also to be welcomed as an indication of a toughened stance towards Iran, Hezbollah’s patron and financier. The Foreign Secretary seems to be taking a stronger line on Iran due to the continued imprisonment of British Iranian dual national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. In light of Iranian support for terror organisations across the Middle East, tougher action on Iran is to be supported and encouraged. Rejection of the untenable distinction between ‘wings’ of Hezbollah will also enable law enforcement agencies to crack down on financial support for one of the best funded terror organisations in the world.

Concerns have been mooted over full proscription in view of Hezbollah’s participation in the Lebanese government. It has been argued that the UK’s relationship with Lebanon may be unduly complicated by such a determination. That argument remains unconvincing in light of the relationship which the US, Canada and the Arab League maintain with Lebanon while being clear in their own acknowledgment that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation in its entirety.

Indeed, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat, has further indicated that proscription of the ‘political wing’ would not conflict with the UK’s duty to speak to ministers in the Lebanese government. Notably, such MPs as Joan Ryan, Mike Gapes and Ian Austin, all of whom left Labour last week, have also previously called for the group to be banned in its entirety.

The Government and the Home Secretary should be congratulated on the decision to finally end the charade and proscribe Hezbollah in full. With Parliament’s approval, this will be a significant step forward in the proper approach to combatting terrorism and to keeping this heinous organisation from inciting hatred on the streets of the United Kingdom.

Stephen Booth: Brexit and the economy. There are ups, there are downs. But whatever happens, our fundamentals remain strong.

A flexible labour market, a well-regarded legal system, and comparatively favourable demographics relative to the major European economies are all valuable assets.

Stephen Booth is Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

As the ongoing Brexit saga continues to drag towards the 29th March without resolution, every announcement or scrap of economic news is greeted by hard-line Remainers or Brexiters as proof positive of their arguments. Nuance is no use to either extreme in this debate. In reality, since the referendum, there have been positives and negatives but, overall, the economy has held up relatively well compared with the political wreckage that Brexit has been causing in Westminster.

After retail sales figures outstripped forecasts in January, the consultancy Oliver Wyman suggested the reason for this pleasant surprise was that consumers might be stockpiling for a No Deal Brexit. This might have tallied had the boost been attributed to a spike in the purchase of tinned baked beans, but Office of National Statistics figures illustrated that sales of discounted clothing were the biggest driver. Are we really stockpiling jumpers?

Japanese carmaker Honda’s decision last week to close its Swindon plant provided the latest opportunity to confirm our prejudices. Some rushed to cite Brexit as the cause, before Takahiro Hachigo, Honda’s chief executive, stated that “Brexit was not taken into account” in the decision. Moves towards emissions-free vehicles, over capacity at the Swindon plant and the removal of tariffs under a new EU-Japan trade deal seem to be the prime reasons for the closure. After all, Honda is not closing its UK plant in favour of another location inside the EU market, or another European country with more certain access to it. Indeed, it is also closing its plant in Turkey, which has a customs union with the EU.

However, Brexiters should not take comfort from this episode. Rightly or wrongly, many outside the UK see Brexit as damaging to “Brand Britain”. Equally, it is very hard for companies like Honda to “blame” Brexit because they risk a consumer backlash. Blithely dismissing businesses’ legitimate concerns about uncertainty or the impact of a No Deal Brexit as a rerun of “Project Fear” does nothing to dispel this instinct. Even if only a minor contributing factor, Brexit uncertainty was a very useful excuse, at the very least, for Honda to pull the plug in Britain. To reiterate the degree of uncertainty facing businesses, we are just five weeks away from a potential No Deal Brexit and we are still eagerly awaiting an announcement of what tariffs the government intends to levy on imports from all over the world.

Ultimately, each isolated case is complicated and can only tell us so much. The wider reality is that, in 2016 and 2017, UK growth was sluggish in comparison to the global upswing. But in its January forecast, the IMF forecasts that, following an orderly Brexit, the UK growth rate will converge with France and Germany at around 1.5 per cent in 2019 and 2020. The European Commission expects the UK to marginally outpace Germany in 2019.

According to Gertjan Vlieghe, an External Member of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, the reason for the UK’s comparative underperformance is that while business investment has grown strongly across the G7, it has stalled in Britain. Given the seismic nature of the Brexit vote and the political fallout it would be surprising if many businesses weren’t hesitant to invest. Getting a deal through which provides for an orderly Brexit might unlock some pent-up investment. However, it is difficult to see how a No Deal Brexit or Article 50 extension in the hope of a second referendum would provide businesses with the confidence they crave.

On the other hand, despite a weakening of the pound, consumer spending has on the whole remained buoyant and reflects the UK’s strong labour market performance. Employment is at record high levels, and wages are rising faster than inflation. The Government recently posted its largest January revenue surplus since records began in 1993.

Looking to the longer term, the UK’s economic fundamentals remain strong. A flexible labour market, a well-regarded legal system, and comparatively favourable demographics relative to the major European economies are all valuable assets. In and of itself, Brexit will not be a life or death matter for the economy. As consumers and supply chains adjust to whatever new trade barriers arise on both sides of the Channel, there will be winners and losers. This is the inevitable reality of altering years of deep economic integration.

However, onlookers and potential foreign investors might wonder whether the fundamentals of our politics are as sound. Parliament has so far been found desperately wanting in what is only the first stage of Brexit. Many MPs on either side are still intent on debating Brexit as a matter of principle rather than pragmatism, two-and-a-half years after the referendum campaign. There must be major doubts about their ability to wrestle with the real-world challenges and decisions required to reshape Britain for the big, wide world outside the EU.

The Department for International Trade’s no-deal planning is more advanced than the doomsayers claim

There has been much speculation about what the UK and EU will do in the event of No Deal, focused in the UK on the no-deal planning notices emanating from the Department for Exiting the European Union. What little attention has been paid to the Department for International Trade (DIT) has usually taken the form […]

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There has been much speculation about what the UK and EU will do in the event of No Deal, focused in the UK on the no-deal planning notices emanating from the Department for Exiting the European Union. What little attention has been paid to the Department for International Trade (DIT) has usually taken the form of criticism that crucial deals for the UK’s external trade will be lost because we will have failed to novate or roll over the agreements with a host of countries we have through the EU.

Any DIT announcement of a successful roll over or novation is usually accompanied by howls of derision from various doomsayers who say that this is a small percentage of the number of agreements the UK has through the EU with other countries outside the EU27. Reference is often made to 60 or 70 agreements that fall into this bucket (it is actually around 40 agreements covering around 70 countries).

When it comes to what we might have if we leave with no deal, the analysis is entirely static, assuming that some mythical gate will come down and foreclose all trade if we have not immediately rolled over all agreements, and assuming that whatever we have when we leave will remain the status quo forever from that point. It is also fair to point out that our trading partners have been confused by the UK’s EU negotiating strategy, something on which DIT has no input, and this has led our trading partners to doubt that we will ultimately be in a position to offer deep liberalisation in the future, because we will be locked into the EU Customs Union or have such high regulatory alignment that we will be unable to have the requisite regulatory autonomy to make us relevant to them.

This uncertainty has certainly impacted their negotiating strategy, and made them more determined to extract as much as possible from us now, because they believe our EU strategy will mean we will be unable to negotiate properly in the future. The more that parliamentary voices lobby hard to take No Deal off the table or extend Article 50, the less incentive these countries have to close these agreements with any urgency, so our own lack of discipline is contributing to the issue.

Despite this hostile working environment, DIT has been quietly and successfully rolling over many of these agreements; and with regard to the ones that matter – and that actually impact meaningful amounts of UK trade (as opposed to say agreements with Andorra and San Marino) – progress is relatively good (with a couple of exceptions which I will discuss below), even in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a signed withdrawal agreement.

First of all, some threshold points. It is often assumed that if 1% of our trade is with country X, and country X has a trade deal with the EU, this means that if that EU-X agreement is not rolled over in favour of the UK, then that means all of that 1% of our trade will fall to zero. But this is not how trade works. Clearly for some products, especially agricultural trade where tariffs are high, failure to novate could have a big impact on our exports (assuming the agreement in question lowers agricultural tariffs for country X, not always the case in the EU-X agreements).

But equally, where the tariffs are low, and industrial goods tariffs are very low (Most Favoured Nation rates for industrial goods are on average 3%-4%), then failure to novate will simply mean a marginally higher tariff that may be compensated for by a host of other factors such as currency fluctuations or tax policy. Right now, even in some of the most established agreements, such as NAFTA and the EU-South Korea agreement for example, some traders still choose to pay the MFN rate and do not take the benefit of the preferential rate because proving origin is more hassle than just paying the low MFN rate.

With that caution, let’s look at progress to date. The agreements that we have through the EU (excluding the recently-signed Japan agreement where tariff cuts only commence in January 2020) account for 11% of our total trade. Looking at how much trade is duty free around the world (or duty free under a GSP programme), it would not be surprising if the trade actually affected – in case the agreements are not rolled over – would be approximately half of that. Of these, the Swiss agreement alone – which has been rolled over – is worth 20% of our trade. Other significant agreements here include CETA, covering a further 12% of the trade under these agreements (almost rolled over), and the EU’s agreements with South Korea and Singapore, each covering around 10% of this trade.

Equally it is worth pointing out that 20 of these EU-X agreements account for only 0.8% of total UK trade. Many of the EU-X agreements are Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that are with small developing countries, not critical to UK trade. We would certainly like to replace these arrangements with UK arrangements, but we should take the opportunity of having a different approach to development here. The EU’s approach to development is to charge high tariffs on the products that developing countries produce (often with significant tariff escalation), and to compensate by lowering that rate through its preference programmes such as GSP, and GSP+ which are conditional (and could be lost by the developing country for any number of reasons outside of the control of individual traders and exporters), and to limit the unconditional programmes (Everything But Arms) to only the poorest of the poor.

A smarter approach for all sides is for the UK to actually be genuinely open to the products of these countries, but to compensate them on a one-off basis for the preference erosion that this will cause. We should also eliminate tariff scalation from our schedules so that these countries are incentivised to go up the value chain and garner more value for their producers – a key element of development. Notwithstanding this, the UK and the Eastern and Southern African states have now rolled over their agreement with the EU.

The UK is very close to rolling over the EEA agreements which cover around 2% of UK trade, mostly with Norway, as Liam Fox pointed out in a ministerial statement last week. We have also rolled over a series of nuclear safeguarding agreements. The UK has acceded to the Common Transit Convention. Although the UK is a member of the WTO by right, and does not have to re-accede to it, it does have to accede to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement, and is in the process of doing so. The recently-signed Swiss agreement also contains important cumulation provisions covering goods originating in the EU, EFTA and Turkey. Crucially, goods that would have been considered ‘of community origin’ by either the UK or Switzerland will remain so.

But trade is also more than just about trade agreements. The UK has been able to roll over a number of mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) that are very important to facilitate trade. MRAs make it easier for people to trade and easier to prove that their products satisfy the standards and regulatory requirements of the other party. The UK has already signed MRAs with the US, Australia, Israel and New Zealand. There are sectoral agreements on insurance with the US and Switzerland, on wine with Australia, and the US. A range of air services agreements have been signed with the US, Canada, Switzerland, and Israel to name a few. The UK and New Zealand have rolled over the UK-NZ veterinary agreement. A distilled spirits mutual recognition agreement with the US (with whom there is a rapidly growing whisky trade) has been signed and a similar agreement is due to be signed shortly with Mexico.

It is true that there are issues with the Japanese and South Korean novations, but it is important to understand why this is the case. In the case of Japan, the Japanese recognise that the EU deal is not an ideal agreement in terms of Japanese trade policy. Japan has made concessions on data that do not suit its IP-based economy that relies on data flow. The Japanese would rather have the UK in the CPTPP arrangement rather than simply rolling over the agreement, and that would be in our interests too. They rightly don’t want the new EU-Japan agreement to be the basis for the UK-Japan trading relationship going forward. This is because Japan is particularly concerned about countries like its large neighbour, China, which are increasingly pushing anti-competitive and prescriptive regulations domestically and on the rest of the world. This would stifle their own innovative industries.

Like many global supply chain managers, Japan needs an open trading, pro-competitive regulatory environment. It sees the UK as potentially moving in that direction, and if the UK accedes to the CPTPP, it also sees a possibility that the US will one day return to the TPP fold. If the UK, US and new accession countries like Indonesia and South Korea accede to the CPTPP, then it will command 45% of the world’s GDP, and include the fastest growing countries in the world (compared to the EU27’s 20% assuming static performance over time, whereas it is likely that on current trends the EU27 will decline from this 20% figure).

Indeed, the Japanese may also think that their current negotiating position will prevent a “No Deal” situation arising. There is also a specific nuance with the EU-Japan agreement because it is a new agreement and the tariff cuts are only just starting, and the MFN rate applies to all UK and EU trade until January 2020 anyway. Whatever else is said, the Japanese are committed to a better agreement with the UK than the EU, but only want to go to the Diet for approval once with a better agreement. Other countries have complicated legislative processes too.

In the case of South Korea, they want to see more liberalisation from the UK than they secured from the EU, which is also to be expected. The UK can liberalise more than the EU, but does need a base line from which to operate. It is fair to say that the Koreans have been particularly affected by the confusion in Parliament regarding an extension of Article 50. Why should they negotiate with any urgency, if in fact there is no need to do so?

Additionally, both the Koreans and Japanese have given confused messages – on the one hand seeking more liberalisation either directly or through CPTPP accession, while maintaining that the UK should disturb their UK-EU27 supply chains as little as possible – two inconsistent positions. It would be better for all if these managers of global supply chains took the position that they wanted maximum trade openness between the UK and EU through a comprehensive, advanced FTA consistent with allowing their global trade ambitions of more liberalisation and pro-competitive regulation to be simultaneously fulfilled.

With regard to Turkey, the hysteria is even more divorced from reality. We could never negotiate anything with Turkey until we have actually left because Turkey is in a partial customs union with the EU. Nothing has changed there. It is not news that this particular agreement won’t be rolled over by March 2019.

Of course, if a deal can be agreed, the EU-X deals would continue to apply in their entirety until the end of the transition period. No-one wants a no-deal scenario, but the UK has made sufficient progress on rolling over some of the existing FTAs, MRAs and other sectoral agreements such that leaving without a deal would not be the disaster that some have painted.

We would of course continue this process after we have left the EU, and extend it to include further and deeper liberalisation. However, amendments like Cooper-Boles force other countries to assume that No Deal is in fact off the table, and so there is no point in drawing down political capital with their own legislatures if it not necessary – another example of the UK shooting itself in the foot, but that’s a mistake that is being made by those voices calling for No Deal to be taken off the table or for Article 50 to be extended. It cannot be laid at the door of the DIT. It’s a bit like sending your army into battle, but deliberately taking away its weapons.

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Iain Dale: Welcome to the Monster Raving Soubry Party

Plus: In news elsewhere, a luxury women’s health spa in Belgravia – with annual membership fees of £5,500 – this week blamed Brexit for its closure.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Would any Conservative MPs join Chuka Umunna and his less-than-magnificent-seven? That’s the question that was on many people’s lips earlier this week.

On Tuesday night, I thought about writing an article naming Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston as the most likely candidates to do so. Unfortunately, the lure of a 13 tog duvet got the better of me, and I couldn’t be bothered.

Why only three? We shouldn’t underestimate the pull of the tribe. Politics is a very tribal business, and it takes a lot for someone to leave theirs, especially if they’ve been in it for decades. But, of course, there are one or two Conservative MPs who haven’t been in the Tory tribe for very long and haven’t come up through the party ranks. It means less to them than certain others

I suspect Messers Allen and Wollaston, both of whom had only been party members for about a year before they were selected as candidates, found departure less of a wrench than Anna Soubry.

– – – – – – – – – –

In a delicious sense of timing, on the very same day that seven Labour MPs resigned the Labour whip because of the party’s hard left extremism, Labour let Derek Hatton back into the party after 34 years of exile, only for him then to be suspended 48 hours later. Jacqui Smith tweeted that she felt her own party was trolling her. You can understand why. All we need now is for George Galloway to be allowed back, and it really will seem as if the old band has got back together again.

Labour friends of mine insist that polls that show a five point Tory lead are wrong and that Labour is doing very well in the polls. They are deluding themselves. At this stage in the electoral cycle, Labour should be 10 or 20 points ahead and, given the shambolic state of  disunity that the Conservatives are in, you have to question why the best that Labour seems to be able to do is to get level-pegging.

I think the reason is very simple and it is this. There is a certain group of the electorate which may well like a lot of Labour policies, but cannot stomach the thought of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell taking up residence in Downing Street. They regard them as extreme and unpatriotic. The challenge for those two gentlemen is to prove that they are neither of those things. Good luck with that.

– – – – – – – – – –

Given the fact that the economy is apparently going to hell in a handcart, if you believe Remainers, it is quite remarkable that figures released this week show record levels of employment, with 167,000 extra jobs being created during the period from October to December. It shows how resilient we are, and why however we leave the EU we can be confident about our future.

Digging in to the figures, youth unemployment is down again by 31,000, meaning that since 2010 it has halved. Given the amount of youth unemployment throughout the EU, this is a real achievement. Wages are now rising at 3.4 per cent, with inflation at 1.8 per cent.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Honda announcement on Tuesday was predictably seized upon by those who want to blame Brexit for every negative business development in this country.

Senior politicians on all sides tried to say that this wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t leaving the EU. This – despite the head of Honda in the UK and the head of Honda in Japan both saying in terms that the Brexit did not play a role in the decision.

I don’t deny that in some sectors Brexit uncertainty is having a negative effect, but to pretend that it is to blame for everything is ridiculous, and people can see through it. On Tuesday, a luxury women’s health spa in Belgravia – with annual membership fees of £5,500 – blamed Brexit for its closure. Presumably with a straight face.

– – – – – – – – – –

My partner, who’s not really very much of a political animal, has found the whole defection saga quite fascinating. He rang me up on Wednesday, and asked if I thought he should join the Monster Raving Soubry Party. Well, it’s a better party name than the rather insipid The Independents Group.

Honda could not be clearer – the closure of its Swindon plant is unrelated to Brexit

Even before Honda had a chance to say a single word, many pundits and politicians rushed to blame Brexit for the car company’s decision to close its Swindon factory. But when it finally came, the official statement failed to make any mention of the UK’s departure from the EU. Score one more for the genuine industry specialists […]

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Even before Honda had a chance to say a single word, many pundits and politicians rushed to blame Brexit for the car company’s decision to close its Swindon factory. But when it finally came, the official statement failed to make any mention of the UK’s departure from the EU. Score one more for the genuine industry specialists and trade journalists who, in my view, have been covering these stories relatively well. 

We’ve been here before. Nissan’s U-turn on building the X-Trail in Sunderland also had little to do with Brexit. Yes, Nissan did say that ‘the continued uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future’, which is obviously true. But the company also stressed that its decision on the X-Trail was made for other ‘business reasons’, unrelated to Brexit.

In particular, the X-Trail is a large sport utility vehicle, predominantly run on diesel, which has been struggling to comply with new EU emissions targets. Given the deteriorating outlook for European demand, there was simply no longer a strong enough business case for producing this model here, or indeed anywhere else in the EU. Internal politics within the company may have played a part too. Nonetheless, Nissan is pressing ahead with its other investments in Sunderland, including the next-generation Juke and Qashqai, and its best-selling electric car, the LEAF.

These sorts of ‘business reasons’ also lie behind the planned closure of Honda’s Swindon factory. The company itself has said the move was ‘in response to the unprecedented changes in the global automotive industry. The significant challenges of electrification will see Honda revise its global manufacturing operations, and focus activity in regions where it expects to have high production volumes.’ That’s clear enough for me.

The sad reality is that the Swindon plant is operating well below capacity and has never fully recovered from the global recession. Indeed, the auto industry is in crisis across Europe. According to the latest IHS Markit PMI, output and new orders in the European autos and parts sector are now falling at their fastest rate for many years.

While Honda is obviously important to Swindon, Swindon is no longer important enough to Honda. The company’s growth markets are in Asia and the US, not Europe. To the extent that Honda’s decision is telling us anything important about Brexit, perhaps it’s that the UK should also be focusing on new opportunities in the rest of the world.

Some are still pointing to Honda’s earlier warnings that new trade barriers under a ‘no-deal’ scenario might cost it ‘tens of millions of pounds’. However, the company also stressed at the time that it was still ‘committed’ to the Swindon site – despite these concerns. In any event, Honda will continue producing at Swindon until 2022, so it is hard to argue that the uncertainty over what might happen in the next few months is a game-changer here.

The new EU-Japan trade deal might be more significant. This came into force at the start of this month and will gradually phase out EU tariffs on cars imported from Japan. At face value, this undermines the case for continuing to make cars in the UK for export to the remainder of the EU. However, the EU-Japan deal will not eliminate tariffs overnight, and Honda would have known it was coming for a long time. Brexit is only an issue here if there is a significant risk that the UK and EU fail to strike their own free trade agreement over the coming years. It would seem odd, or at least premature, for Honda to make that call now.

In addition, if the Swindon decision is about the new ability to exports cars to the EU from Japan tariff-free, remaining in the EU would not help the UK. Note that Honda is not moving elsewhere in the EU and is also closing its plant in Turkey. So much for the importance of remaining in a customs union with the EU, or producing on the doorstep of Europe.

The UK Government still deserves some flack here. Japanese companies rarely take these decisions lightly, especially when they might involve a loss of face or appear to let valued partners down. Brexit uncertainty is clearly holding back investment across the whole economy and this would not have been as big a problem if the negotiations with the EU had been handled better. But the closure of the Swindon plant was highly likely to happen anyway, regardless of Brexit. Honda itself has just confirmed that.

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In every aspect of British life there are positives to leaving the EU without a deal

Now the Withdrawal Agreement and all the negotiations have been so roundly defeated, it is the moment to seize the opportunity to vigorously promote the WTO way forward. There is no signed agreement, and there is no legal obligation to abide by its costly rules. Let us now be confident in the enormous opportunity which […]

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Now the Withdrawal Agreement and all the negotiations have been so roundly defeated, it is the moment to seize the opportunity to vigorously promote the WTO way forward. There is no signed agreement, and there is no legal obligation to abide by its costly rules.

Let us now be confident in the enormous opportunity which presents itself. It has been calculated that a WTO Brexit would produce a GDP boost of 7 per cent to the UK economy over the next 15 years which would be worth about £140 billion. Furthermore countries outside of the Single Market have increased their exports faster than Britain has to the EU over the last 30 years. Even Peter Mandelson admitted the Single Market has its downsides, estimating the cost of EU regulation at 4 per cent of GDP.

The UK economy is growing, public borrowing is down and unemployment is at its lowest since 1975. Facebook, Apple and Google have planned big headquarters in Britain, London has been crowned the world’s most popular city for work and Siemens plan to create 2,000 jobs in the UK. Whilst the good economic news continues, the scare stories about border disruption have been completely torpedoed. The head of the Port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, has said they won’t restrict UK trade at all if we leave without a deal. Please can we now end Project Fear? Nobody else sees us in the drab, declining way we sometimes see ourselves. By contrast, the rest of the world is waiting for Britain to shake off the tin-pot diktats of Brussels and emerge as a global trading giant. Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the US want to sign speedy trade deals. Now the Withdrawal Agreement has been voted down, Britain could lower tariffs and have the pick of the world’s markets.

Legally we’re on solid ground. The House of Lords EU financial affairs sub-committee published a report arguing that we can leave the EU without paying anything: Brussels would have no realistic chance of getting £40 billion of taxpayers’ cash. Legal expert Martin Howe QC points out that leaving the European Union without a formal deal is not a step into a legal vacuum as our international trade with the European Union will become subject to the same legal regime which currently governs the majority of our export trade to the rest of the world: the rules-based system of the World Trade Organisation.

Electorally we can offer the country an authentic and optimistic agenda that offers enterprising Britons a bright future. Outside of EU constraints we can take on the vested interests, slash costly taxes for small businesses and re-balance the economy towards wealth creators and entrepreneurs. The provisions under the doomed Withdrawal Agreement for State Aid could have been used by the EU to restrict the UK’s ability to attract foreign investors by cutting taxes. But outside of EU rules we are free to recreate the ‘big bang’ of the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher successfully managed to free the parts of the economy which create wealth to do what they do best, boosting growth across the country.

In almost every aspect of British life there are positives to leaving without a deal. For example, a WTO Brexit would be the catch of the century for Britain’s struggling fishing community. At the end of March we can regain 60% of the UK’s fisheries resources and rejuvenate a multi-billion pound industry for the nation, boosting coastal towns and regaining our sovereign waters. For consumers that means cutting tariffs on imports, reducing the cost of food, clothing, and footwear. And leaving now, with no deal, ends business uncertainty. The Chairman of JCB Anthony Bamford says opting for a WTO deal does not worry him at all.

With the euro stagnating, youth unemployment between 20 and 50 per cent in many EU countries, Germany in technical recession, Greek democracy shattered, and France steeped in riots, we should look with confidence to our own future. As aloof bureaucrats who were voted by nobody give succour to the far-right across the continent, it is clear that the failing institutions of EU integration are the wrong side of history.

With our dynamic skilled workforce, the English language, and our global opportunities under WTO rules, a rejuvenating atmosphere of freedom – both democratic and economic – means an exit without a deal is what Britain can now embrace.

The post In every aspect of British life there are positives to leaving the EU without a deal appeared first on BrexitCentral.

Profile: Singapore, the city state mistakenly held out by Eurosceptics as an example for Britain to follow

Conservatives ought to know without being told that one cannot just take a glance round the world, see which culture one likes the look of, and graft it onto one’s own.

Why can’t a woman be more like a man? When Rex Harrison, playing Professor Higgins, makes that demand in My Fair Lady, the audience laughs because, in his arrogance, he does not realise how absurd he sounds.

Why can’t Britain be more like Singapore? When Jeremy Hunt, playing the role of Foreign Secretary, made that suggestion a few days ago in a speech delivered in Singapore, no one laughed.

For the idea has been floated by many Conservatives, to whom Hunt is suspected of sucking up in order to position himself as a future leader. And the answer, as an irate Leaver put it this week, is that “we’re bloody well not like Singapore”.

Singapore is a city state whose territory occupies about 280 square miles. The United Kingdom is about 94,000 square miles in extent.

The population of Singapore is about 5.6 million, of whom 39 per cent are foreigners. The UK’s population is about 66 million, or roughly 12 times that.

And although Singapore has held general elections ever since 1959, these have invariably been won by the People’s Action Party (PAP), which currently holds 81 of the 89 seats in the Parliament of Singapore. Over that period, the UK saw changes of the main ruling party in 1964, 1970, 1974, 1979, 1997 and 2010.

During those 59 years, Singapore has had three prime ministers and Britain has had eleven. Continuity of leadership has certain advantages. It has helped Singapore achieve the long-term approach to infrastructure investment which Hunt holds up as a model for Britain.

The PAP was the creation of Lee Kuan Yew, a remarkable man, who served as Prime Minister for 31 years and 178 days, and remained powerful for another two decades. The nearest approach to that record in British history is Sir Robert Walpole, conventionally regarded as our first Prime Minister, who served for 20 years and 314 days in 1721-42.

Lee was born in Singapore in 1923, when it was a British colony, and lived through the crushing defeat of British forces in 1942 at the hands of the Japanese. After the war, he came to Britain to study at the LSE, felt overwhelmed by London and managed to transfer to Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, where in his law finals he took a starred first, ahead of two future professors of law.

He went home to practice as a barrister, changed his name from Harry Lee to the more Chinese Lee Kuan Yew, entered politics and supported Singapore’s independence in 1963 as part of Malaysia. For he accepted the conventional wisdom that this small territory, dependent on its larger neighbour even for drinking water, was incapable of surviving as an independent state.

In 1965 Lee wept, and was full of anguish, when after riots between Malays and Chinese, Malaysia expelled Singapore, reckoning its Chinese population, which is predominant, was simply too difficult to absorb.

Singapore was small, poor and vulnerable, but had a deep-water harbour and occupied a wonderful position at the tip of the Malaysian peninsular on the Malacca Straits, connecting the Indian to the Pacific Ocean, for which reason Stamford Raffles had in January 1819 founded a trading station there for the British East India Company.

So although Singapore is commonly described as being “without natural resources”, thanks to its position on one of the world’s great shipping lanes it enjoys an enormous competitive advantage, of which Lee proceeded to make skilful use, by creating the other conditions needed to develop the container port, build a successful airline and attract numerous international corporations, including banks, oil traders and refiners, ship repairers, and electrical and biomedical manufacturers.

The spirit in which he ruled is best conveyed in his own words:

“Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no other way you can govern a Chinese society.”

“If you are a troublemaker… it’s our job to politically destroy you… Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac.”

“You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, schools.”

No British Prime Minister who talked like that would survive five minutes. But Lee’s authoritarian rule was widely admired, for he provided the homes, medicine, jobs and schools which Singaporeans wanted.

And in due course he passed on the baton to his eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, who studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, where in 1974 he was Senior Wrangler, has served as Prime Minister since 2004, and could eventually be succeeded by a member of the next generation of the family.

The country they have led for so long has a reputation for being safe, clean, prosperous and uncorrupt. Troublemakers, including democracy campaigners, are not welcome. Just after Hunt’s visit, a civil rights activist was convicted for holding an illegal assembly which had been joined via Skype by a democracy campaigner in Hong Kong, 1600 miles away.

Andrew Wood recently pointed out on ConHome some of the reasons for treating the received idea of Singapore with caution:

“Singapore often gets quoted in the debate over Brexit – but usually of a fantasy version of Singapore: a low tax, low regulation mirage. The reality is that Singapore is not especially low tax, nor is it unregulated. Its corporation tax rate is 17 per cent; we will achieve the same rate in 2020. Other tax rates are lower, but mainly because its welfare state works very differently to our own, with residents and businesses required to save into a Central Provident Fund (equivalent to 35 per cent of a worker’s salaries), and it spends almost twice as much on defence as a percentage of GDP as we do. As for regulation, in some areas it is more nanny state then we are. But it is certainly true it is a more business-friendly environment then the UK.”

Conservatives ought to know without being told that one cannot just take a glance round the world, see which culture one likes the look of, and graft it onto one’s own. About 74 per cent of Singapore’s citizens are Chinese, 13 per cent are Malay and nine per cent are Indian.

It is in many ways an admirable city state, but quite different in its culture and traditions to the United Kingdom. To think we can just “become like Singapore” and our problems will be solved is culpably naive.

Even Singapore had to work extremely hard for half a century in order to become Singapore, and its sense of nationhood has very shallow historical roots compared to ours.

“But what about the schools?” you may exclaim. Singapore’s schools do indeed achieve excellent results in international league tables. They also make extensive use of the cane, a remedy for anti-social behaviour in which Lee Kuan Yew maintained an invincible belief.

If we set out, in a spirit of mindless imitation, to copy Singapore’s educational methods, it is quite possible we shall end up with the dullest elements of their system, rather as we did when we tried in the 1980s to copy the then fashionable example of Japan, and reached the unfortunate conclusion that intensive testing held the key.

An odd dispute from time to time makes its way into the public prints. It is about what to do with the bungalow, known as 38 Oxley Road, in which Lee Kuan Yew lived, and in which in the 1950s some of the founding meetings of the PAP were held.

He wanted the bungalow in due course to be demolished, but his descendants have fallen out over this question.

This rift within the Lee family may be of no real significance, but is what commonly happens in dynasties. Britain has, incidentally, had only two examples of father and son becoming Prime Minister: the Pitts and the Grevilles.

The burden of a hereditary succession is nowadays born instead by our constitutional monarchy. Might this prove, in a century or two’s time, an example which Singapore could follow?

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.