What the new Anglo-Japanese trade deal tells us about ‘Global Britain’

12 Sep

Amidst all the challenging stories dogging the Government at the moment, yesterday’s newspapers offered a rare bright spot: the conclusion of an ‘historic’ trade agreement between the United Kingdom and Japan.

With talks with the European Union having almost completely broken down, and negotiations with the United States also having stalled, it offers a much-needed sense of momentum to the idea of a free-trading ‘global Britain’ so cherished by Brexiteers.

It also undercuts the impression that Boris Johnson’s brinkmanship over the UK Internal Market Bill has left it internationally isolated, although the timing reportedly owes more to the imminent departure of Abe Shinzō, the Japanese premier.

Yet the detail also highlights the challenges of the new approach. The headline figure of a £15.2 billion boost to Anglo-Japanese trade sounds impressive, but is a relative drop in the ocean in GDP terms. Likewise on agriculture, a sensitive topic which is one of the key stumbling blocks to a deal with the US, Britain has only managed to secure access to any unused capacity in a tariff deal negotiated by the EU.

On the other hand, it does illustrate that it is possible for the Government to effectively ‘roll over’ trading relationships built whilst the UK was inside the EU – and indeed, deepen them in areas of particular interest to Britain, such as digital and financial services. Liz Truss, the Trade Secretary, has also indicated that she hopes the deal will be a stepping stone towards British membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – which the Financial Times describes as “a sprawling multinational trade pact” – and thus further out of the EU’s orbit.

What seems unlikely is that deals like this will have much cut-through with the electorate, who have never been greatly interested in the minutiae of trade or regulatory policy. As the Vote Leave team recognised during the referendum, ‘global Britain’ is not a narrative which greatly excites the voters, especially not those voters who have been won over to the Conservatives since 2016.

If the Government wants to convert trade policy into an electoral dividend, then, it will need to package them up as part of a broader, more appealing, and more digestible narrative with more concrete benefits, as advocates of CANZUK are doing.

The deal with Tokyo is undoubtedly good news. But the detail of the agreement, and the way it has been completely swallowed by the news cycle, spotlights both the challenges involved in operating an independent trade policy and the limited political rewards of doing so.

Image credit: LSE Digital Library.

David Gauke: May should lead the Commons struggle against her successor’s plan to break international law if necessary

12 Sep

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

The reputations of Prime Ministers tend to follow much the same trajectory.

First, there is a honeymoon period on the back of a Party leadership or general election victory. Their qualities are compared favourably with their predecessor and the country gives them the benefit of the doubt.

This period is usually as good as it gets. Popularity may fluctuate but eventually the attributes that once seemed refreshing begin to grate. A Prime Minister’s strengths become weaknesses. Disappointments accumulate and enemies become emboldened.

Whether suddenly (think John Major and the exit from the ERM or Gordon Brown and the election that never was) or gradually, they become damaged. A Prime Minister’s term in office usually ends on a low ebb.

At which point, the reputation of an ex-Prime Minister also tends to follow a familiar trajectory. Their qualities are compared unfavourably with their successor, and the country refuses to give them the benefit of the doubt. The troubled last period in office is fresh in the public’s memory. Former allies gravitate to the new powerbase or drift into well-remunerated obscurity. An ex-Prime Minister almost becomes a figure of pity and ridicule – the mighty fallen. Their reputation continues to decline.

And then, at some point, it begins to recover. The comparison with their successor becomes more nuanced. It is appreciated that the problems that beset their time in office were real and complex, and that maybe changing the captain hadn’t solved all the problems aboard the ship.

All of our recent Prime Ministers fit this profile to some extent, but none more so than Theresa May. On assuming office in 2016, her obvious diligence and decency won her the respect of much the nation. Her reserved, unshowy personality was seen as an asset. She was sensible and pragmatic, but also steely and determined. She polled extraordinarily well.

But, as is familiar to all readers of this website, this is all came to end – and very quickly. Over the course of the 2017 general election campaign, her reserved, unshowy personality was seen as uncommunicative and unsympathetic. A strength became a weakness and, when the Conservative majority was lost, she became a loser not a winner.

She then faced the almost impossible task of getting a Brexit deal through with a minority government, a deeply split Parliamentary Party and an increasingly polarised public. Her attempts at compromise failed to satisfy both sides of the arguments.

When she reached a deal with the EU – a compromise that had to address the contradictions and fantasies that had been peddled in previous years – she lacked the shamelessness necessary to persuade a sceptical Party and nation that she had achieved a triumph.

In the critical months that followed, she suffered Parliamentary defeat after defeat. Even those of us in her Cabinet did not know how she would try to find a way of out of the situation. In the end, she would not countenance what she saw as a risk of the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with the potential implications for the peace process. Consequently, she did not attempt to force through a No Deal Brexit. The wider Conservative Party neither understood nor accepted her position and she was forced out.

For the next few months, many compared her unfavourably with her successor. Boris Johnson secured a deal which permitted greater regulatory and customs freedom (for Great Britain) and won a majority for it at Second Reading.

Rather than allow the Withdrawal Agreement be subject to extended Parliamentary scrutiny, he pulled the legislation and managed to force the opposition parties into a general election. In contrast to May’s efforts in 2017, he triumphed with a thumping majority. Six weeks later, we had finally left the EU. He had achieved what she had not.

In the 30 months after the start of the 2017 general election campaign, May’s reputation had fallen further and faster than most. But, I would argue, it then began to recover somewhat earlier than happened with her predecessors.

The Covid crisis would have played to her strengths. Her moral seriousness and attention to detail would have been well suited to the circumstances. She would have provided grip. People remembered that these were useful qualities for a Prime Minister.

And when it came to the ‘fabulous, oven-ready Brexit deal’ obtained by her successor, all was not as it was portrayed. The Northern Irish question was always immensely difficult with the Brexit-seeking UK holding contradictory objectives. Boris Johnson had got a deal by selling out the Unionists, but failed to recognise publicly that this is what he had done.

This was either staggeringly incompetent or extraordinarily mendacious (I am afraid either explanation is plausible) but it has come unstuck. Ministers’ explanations for the problems the Government now perceives – ‘it was all done in a hurry and now we must not jeopardise the peace process’ – only make matters worse. They certainly destroy the argument that Johnson had proven to be a masterful and triumphant negotiator.

In order to try to interpret the Northern Ireland Protocol in a manner that is consistent with what the Prime Minister has been saying about it, as opposed to what he actually agreed, he has had to come forward with legislation that gives the Government the power to breach international law.

I am not going to dwell on why this is an appalling course of action that will do immense damage to our international reputation and destroy trust in the EU negotiations (they stagger on, but I wonder if they are now just zombie negotiations). This is not a specifically Brexit issue, or even a No Deal Brexit issue, but it is wider than that. That is why staunch Brexiteers such as Michael Howard, Norman Lamont, Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale have been so condemnatory.

So has May. All those who worked with her would not be surprised by her principled objections to the proposal, and her concern that future international partners will not trust the UK to ‘abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs’.

It would have been inconceivable to May to have brought forward legislation such as this. From my point of view, this is just as well. As her Lord Chancellor, had she done so, I would have felt compelled to resign in order to uphold the rule of law.

In the next few days, the Commons will have to decide whether it is willing to endorse the proposed breach of international law. There is considerable disquiet in the Parliamentary Party about this, but caution about rebelling. It will be a stain upon the reputation of this country and the Conservative Party if the legislation, in its current form, were to pass.

There is only person who might be able to stop this in the House of Commons. If Theresa May were to indicate that she will vote against reneging on our commitments, it would embolden others.

Voting against the Conservative whip is not in her nature. She is not a natural rebel but were she to defy the whip – in a very specific and limited way – it would be immensely to her credit and very clearly in the national interest. History would judge her kindly.

Belgium hasn’t “flattened the curve” – and should not be used to justify UK curfews

11 Sep

During the Government’s press conference on Wednesday, Chris Whitty explained that the latest lockdown rules, which mean it’s now illegal for over six people to socialise indoors or outdoors from Monday, had been inspired by Belgium.

On July 29, the country introduced similar guidelines, reducing the number of people who are allowed to socialise together from 15 to five, as well as enforcing a 10pm national curfew (which, depressingly, has been applied to bars and restaurants in Bolton – and could be extended to other parts of the UK).

Speaking about Belgium, Whitty said it had been a “clear indication that if you act rapidly and decisively when these changes (rises in cases) are happening, there is a reasonable or good chance of bringing the rates back down under control”.

Newspapers were quick to praise the country. The Daily Mail suggested that it had been “able to curtail a second wave of coronavirus”, and The Evening Standard even referred to Belgium as a “success“.

On the other hand, Spain and France, which have both seen cases rise rapidly, have been portrayed unfavourably. In the press conference, Whitty used this dramatic graph (below) to highlight their situation.

The conclusion is clear: the UK now needs to “act decisively” – aka apply similar measures to Belgium’s – to save it from a similar fate.

Matt Hancock, too, echoed Whitty’s sentiments. “If you look at what’s happened in Belgium, they saw an increase and then they’ve brought it down, whereas in France and Spain that just hasn’t happened”, he said.

Yet, in the last few days the idea that Belgium is a “success” look rather dubious (to say the least).

Indeed, as The Brussels Times points out, the country has recorded a rapid rise in the number of new Coronavirus infections. According to the latest figures by Sciensano (the Belgian institute for health), an average of 547.4 people per day tested positive for Covid-19 in the country during the last week, with new infections per day rising by 22 per cent over the seven-day period (from September 1 to 7).

It’s the sixth day in the row that the average number of new confirmed Covid-19 infections in Belgium has risen again.

Furthermore, while the Government’s graph was plotted from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, others look less flattering. Take the site Worldometer, as an alternative source, which released these yesterday:

Although it’s worth pointing out that Belgium did experience a slight dip in the number of new infections in August, the trend clearly hasn’t been sustained as people return to work and school. And on a more contentious note, it’s not obvious whether the dip was due to the interventions (limiting parties to five and curfews) or something else. There is still much that we do not know about the virus, and why it moves through countries at different rates.

Another question to ask is what hospitalisations look like in all this; from September 4 to 10, there has been an average of 22 new hospital admissions per day in Belgium – an increase on the previous week (15.7). Compared to cases, these figures are relatively low, and another reminder that scientists still don’t understand how cases translate to hospitalisations and deaths (partly because no one knows what cases were at the beginning of the outbreak).

Already there’s been talk of whether Britain could copy Belgium more in its approach, with a troubling YouGov poll showing that 62 per cent of the public would support a 10pm to 5am curfew.

But any moves must be made on more clear-cut data. By all indications, the latest figures are not that.

Minutes of the London FXJSC Meeting – 9 June 2020

11 Sep
The Bank of England chairs the London Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee (FXJSC), which is a forum for discussion of the wholesale foreign exchange market. The FXJSC is made up of market participants, infrastructure providers and the UK financial regulators.

JP Floru: The call for ‘Covid Marshals’ shows that ministers are losing their grip on the nation

11 Sep

J.P. Floru is the author of The Sun Tyrant: A Nightmare called North Korea and Heavens on Earth: How to Create Mass Prosperity. He contested Bermondsey and Old Southwark in the 2015 General Election.

I always wondered why so many civilians aid authoritarian regimes: people spying on their neighbours, and denouncing their work colleagues and friends, helping tyrants to stay in power.

It existed in all East European communist countries. It existed in Nazi-Germany, and in the countries it occupied. In the Stasi Unterlagen Behorde (the Stasi Records Office) in Berlin, people can find out who of their friends landed his mother, sister, or son in prison or worse. Civilian informer systems still exist in Cuba, North Korea and a raft of other countries.

What motivates people to do the unspeakable? And in such numbers? Imagine my surprise to find the answer in 2020 Britain. A nation nominally free since Magna Carta, and definitely free since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and rightly proud of it. Yet when the lockdown started, the police were overwhelmed by calls from people informing on their neighbours.

Are these informers ‘evil’? Perhaps a few are, and make up allegations. Some may do it as a lark.

But most simply see it as a civic duty. They believe that what they are doing is right. The democratically elected government of the United Kingdom is fighting a terrible danger. The citizens want to help. Anything ‘endangering’ the nation is fair game. If you don’t do anything illegal, you have nothing to fear, right?

Has it occurred that people who did this under authoritarian regimes did it for the same reason? Perhaps a few were forced into informing to save their own lives. Perhaps some did it out of revenge, or for personal gain. But the vast majority thought they were doing ‘the right thing’. They saw a ‘danger’ (communism, the Jews, fascism, republicanism, the infidel) and wanted to protect their country.

Why? Perhaps they held those ideological beliefs. In many cases, it was what their government told them. Which they believed, for whatever reason.

In the long run, It is impossible for a minority to enforce its views upon the unwilling majority. The more unfair and severe the rules, the more difficult it becomes. There is only so much the police can do. Ultimately, for the regime to survive, to enforce unpopular and onerous rules, you need more than the paid staff to make it happen. You need the active support of at least part of the population.

You can do this in two ways. First, you make sure that following the rules becomes a ‘moral duty’. Nothing works better than to make people believe that what they are doing ‘is right’. Yes! You should call the police when your neighbour invites six friends for an illegal dinner party – because somewhere a wonderful granny may die as a result!

Following the rules is not an individual choice: it is to save another person. Observe how traditional logic has been turned upside down.

Secondly, you make it formal. You encourage civilians to help enforce the law. All authoritarian regimes do this. When I went to North Korea, I quickly became aware of ‘inminbans’. Inminbans are typically bossy ladies of a certain age who keep an eye on the twenty households under their remit. She keeps a register of anyone going in or out of your flat. She checks your travel permit. She has a key to your flat, and checks that the compulsory portraits of The Leaders are kept clean and dusted. Once a week she has a meeting with the security services, where she informs on what she has seen.

She is feared and paid. Almost every communist country had a similar system. It is notorious in Cuba: they are called Committees for the Defence of the Revolution.

Now we are introducing a formalised informer system in the UK. Boris Johnson announced that an army of ‘Covid Marshals’ will help enforce tough new rules.

You can say that our situation is quite different from authoritarian regimes. But is it? The PRime Minister was elected with a huge majority, basically because of Brexit, for five years. There is no election in sight. His majority is such that no MP dares to disagree publicly as he or she can simply be ignored. Then a sudden unexpected emergency came along – about which we knew nothing when we voted. He just appointed an unknown Chancellor who owes everything to him. He rules with a small number of friendly Cabinet members (‘C19’) and an unelected spin doctor.

Johnson panicked when Professor Ferguson issued his Report, predicting a catastrophic death toll. His spin doctor had a Damascene conversion and bought it. His small number of Cabinet Members who surround him likewise. He decided the lockdown of the entire population, at a catastrophic cost. He dramatically set aside the herd immunity policy which had been developed for just such pandemics by successive governments since 2005.

They introduced the lockdown. As most were in hysterical fear of the new unknown disease, they supported the measures. We now have more information. Opposition is becoming vocal. Is the population still on board? Having been locked up for many months, nobody believes that a severe lockdown is feasible again.

That severe measures are no longer supported is clear for all who want to see. It started with supermarket refusing to enforce masks. The Metropolitan Police announced it would only intervene in extreme cases. The anti-lockdown demonstrations are growing in strength. Social media are on fire. Want the pulse of the nation? Read the comments on Guido Fawkes, or here on ConHome.

So now the Government hires informers. They have to, because they do not have the police numbers to enforce severe new rules. They can no longer count on the moral support of the long-suffering population: most of us have picked up on the fact that the death toll is very low, and that it is not possible to survive without keeping the country’s economy running.

If you have lost the support of the people, and need informers, you need to take stock.

Bob Seely: The Government must urgently re-assess its misguided housebuilding strategy

11 Sep

Bob Seely is the MP for the Isle of Wight.

Across rural shires and southern England, the Government is set to impose unachievable and damaging house-building targets which will undermine the levelling up agenda.

Environmentally, they will heap pressure on shires, whose infrastructure is already under strain. Economically, they will reinforce jobs and growth in the South when we have promised to level up the North. Politically, they will prove deeply unpopular.

This latest piece of self-induced, foot-shooting has come in the form of the new Standard Method for house-building. It accompanies the Government’s White Paper on housing, Planning for the Future. Whilst the White Paper itself will face debate and potential amendments, the new Standard Method can apparently simply be adopted. It will damage this Government.

MPs and councillors across Britain are slowly waking up to this. Ministers belatedly claim to be listening; they need to.

If ‘levelling up’ means anything, it means an integrated Government plan to support infrastructure, job creation and house building to revive the Midlands and North, especially towns overlooked in recent decades, and to stop the endless drift of jobs and people to the South. Yet this housing  strategy, as Neil O’Brien has outlined in his well-researched article, results in much lower targets in Northern cities, where we should be kickstarting revival, and significantly higher targets in rural and suburban areas.

This disjointed policy demands significant greenfield development. I know not a single Tory voter in the last election who voted for this. If this is an example of co-ordinated Government, it is a well disguised one.

The 12 biggest absolute decreases in housing targets by local planning authority on 2018/19 delivery are generally Labour controlled Midlands and northern cities and towns, with few exceptions: Salford (-59 per cent, -1882 dwellings per annum (dpa)), Birmingham (-27 per cent, -1131 dpa), Liverpool (-48 per cent, -1063 dpa), Leeds (-30 per cent, -1040 dpa), Southampton (-48 per cent, -784 dpa), Newcastle upon Tyne (-56 per cent, -978 dpa), Manchester (-30 per cent, -699 dpa), and Nottingham (-38 per cent, -559 dpa).

Instead, rural and suburban England is going to be hit. This will alienate both millions of Conservative voters and thousands of Conservative Councillors. Moreover, the withdrawal of powers from local Government suggested in the White Paper will undermine local democracy and the important role of councillors.

Council colleagues should know the following local planning authorities will all be required to more than double their 2018/19 delivery rate. This is likely to result in a tsunami of local anger from those who believed they could trust a Conservative Government not to concrete the countryside. It will fire up our political opponents and may suppress our support in future elections, beginning next May. Here is a modest selection, with hyperlinks:

Arun in Sussex (+239 per cent, +1454 dwellings per annum – dpa), Thurrock (+263 per cent, +1075 dpa), Tonbridge and Malling (+241 per cent, +1018 dpa), North Somerset (+134 per cent, +979 dpa), Teignbridge (+138 per cent, +888 dpa), Dover (+187 per cent, +833 dpa), Southend on Sea (+169 per cent, +832 dpa), Swale in Kent (+120 per cent, +809 dpa), Thanet (+246 per cent, +727 dpa), Havant (+261 per cent, +696 dpa), Isle of Wight (+199 per cent, +695 dpa), Canterbury (+162 per cent, +695 dpa),  Somerset West and Taunton (+129 per cent, +694 dpa), Blaby (+120 per cent, +626 dpa), Shepway (+134 per cent, +597 dpa), Basildon (+141 per cent, +480 dpa), Worthing (+198 per cent, +579 dpa) Sevenoaks (+222 per cent, +565 dpa), Reigate and Banstead (+104 per cent, +556 dpa), Mendip (+108 per cent, +552 dpa), Ashfield (+171 per cent, +513 dpa), Harborough (+170 per cent, +509 dpa) Waverley (+148 per cent, +499 dpa), Bromsgrove (+244 per cent, +492 dpa), Hinckley and Bosworth (+109 per cent, +464 dpa), Fenland (+114 per cent, +450 dpa), Lewes (+126 per cent, +446 dpa), Epping Forest (+104 per cent, +442 dpa), Epsom and Ewell (+266 per cent, +439 dpa), Three Rivers (+292 per cent, +438 dpa), Oxford (+262 per cent, +406 dpa), North Hertfordshire (+181 per cent, +403 dpa), Guildford (+208 per cent, +381 dpa), New Forest (+102 per cent, +395 dpa), Eastbourne (+274 per cent, +356 dpa), Cannock Chase (+146 per cent, +341 dpa), Forest of Dean (+125 per cent, +338 dpa), Rochford (+124 per cent, +324 dpa), Tandridge (+118 per cent, +289 dpa), Broxtowe (+128 per cent, +275 dpa), Hastings (+146 per cent, +269 dpa), Gosport (+461 per cent, +254 dpa), North East Derbyshire (+121 per cent, +230 dpa), Adur in Sussex (+188 per cent, +213), Oadby and Wigston (+132 per cent, +123 dpa), and Rossendale (+153 per cent, +164 dpa).

(A full list is available here.)

Take my constituency, the Isle of Wight; the proposals will see our target increased by over 50 per cent. Half the Island is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, yet we will be ordered to build more houses per year than either Portsmouth or Southampton, both cities with major infrastructure and services, and populations almost 70 per cent larger. This is just nonsense.

Why? First, our services and infrastructure are already overwhelmed with the increases we have already had. We have basically the same Victorian country lanes we had two centuries ago, minus most of our railways. Second, we are dependent on a tourism economy that crammed roads and shoe-horned housing estates will undermine. Third, our island building industry produces between 250-400 homes per year. It can’t build more. Our current targets are already unachievable. The Government might as well order the Island’s Council to develop a Moon Landing programme for all the likelihood of achieving these new targets.

It won’t help our young, either. Increasing in housebuilding do not necessarily result in increased affordability. (The FT explains why here.) Factors such as low interest rates, slow wage growth, and a need for the right type of homes are key. As with many other parts of the UK, we need one and two bed homes for residents, built in sensitive numbers in existing communities, with rent-to-buy schemes to support the young. We get three- and four-bed, generic (sorry, ‘superior’) housing in soul-destroying, low density, greenfield estates because that is what suits developers. From all sides of the political spectrum, people are fed up.

The Government’s Standard Method produces unviable, undesirable targets for swathes of rural England. What is being proposed is not levelling up, but a levelling down – from the cities to the shires. It will cost us economically, environmentally and politically. It will not help young people. It will worsen quality of life. It is not what many of our electorates voted for.

Sajid Javid: We need a strategy for putting the country back on a secure financial footing.

11 Sep

Sajid Javid is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and is MP for Bromsgrove.

When is a pandemic not a public health crisis?

That’s the question raised by pollsters in Australia and the US, who have found that the public are increasingly likely to talk about the impact of Covid-19 in economic – rather than epidemiological – terms.

Not so in the UK, where throughout lockdown the public’s attention remained firmly fixed on case numbers and mortality rates. In one sense, we have Rishi Sunak to thank for that. Interventions such as the furlough scheme were rightly among the most generous of any country, and have insulated many from the consequences of the downturn – so far.

The Treasury’s largesse, however, comes at a cost. Whilst the Government was right to spend ‘whatever it takes’, we cannot afford to play down the magnitude of the hole this has created in the public finances. In the first six months of the crisis, the National Audit Office estimates that coronavirus cost the government a whopping £210 billion in extra spending alone. To put that in perspective, a decade of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the taxpayer £30bn.

Politically, the easy way out would be to accept a permanent increase in public sector borrowing – at least for the remainder of this term. There are many in Westminster who will try to seize on the crisis as a way of introducing unsustainable levels of day-to-day spending through the back door.

That would be deeply irresponsible and, in the long term, an act of national self-harm. Not only would we be burdening future generations with unserviceable levels of debt, it would leave us dangerously unprepared for future crises.

I’m not suggesting that we slam the brakes on spending, nor that we abandon a manifesto pledge not to raise the rate of income tax, VAT or National Insurance. However, it’s critically important that we remain committed in the medium and long term to sound money, low borrowing and balanced budgets.

In short, we need a strategy for putting the country back on a secure financial footing.

I’d like to see theGgovernment set out a plan for bringing our national debt under control at the Autumn Budget, underpinned by a new set of fiscal rules. Wait any longer and day-to-day spending will become progressively more difficult to unwind. The rules themselves should be a clear statement of intent. In a recent report, I argued that the government should set itself the target of balancing the current budget within three years of the economy returning to normality. In the meantime, we should ensure that the deficit falls year on year. Delivering on this would require us to tackle the problem in three stages.

The first is to take a fresh look at what savings can be made from existing commitments. When inheriting a government department I often asked for a complete list of ongoing spending programmes. I was consistently amazed at the number of vanity projects and out-of-date initiatives burning through cash beneath the surface.

The Treasury’s upcoming comprehensive spending review should be zero-based, meaning that every programme in every department is measured against its importance for recovery and levelling up the country. If a programme isn’t delivering value for the taxpayer, it has no business spending their money.

Some reforms make sense given the wider circumstances. Relaxing regulations on childcare provision, for example, has the potential to rein in a multi-billion-pound government bill whilst also reducing the cost of living and encouraging parents to return to work.

Secondly, the Government should avoid tax increases that weaken the businesses driving our recovery. Trying to restore the health of the Government’s accounts by clawing back money from Britain’s SMEs and entrepreneurs would take a scythe to any green shoots and stymie economic growth.

This would be a good opportunity to commission a system-wide review of our tax system with a view to delivering increases in revenue through improving incentives and minimising distortions.

Above all else, the government must remember that the faster we recover in the short term, the fewer unpopular tax and spending decisions will be needed over the next four years.

Consequently, our third and most important priority is the vigorous pursuit of growth. The objective of this is not only to recover lost ground as swiftly as possible, but to use the pandemic as an opportunity to put an end to the poor growth rates of the past few years and set our country on a path of solid and sustained expansion.

With real interest rates below zero the government can dramatically increase its investment in infrastructure, particularly in left-behind regions. As well as providing an immediate boost to economic activity this would drive improvements in productivity and long-term growth.

Successive governments have discovered the hard way that infrastructure projects are easy to announce, but difficult to realise. We need to simplify the disjointed, dysfunctional framework through which infrastructure is planned and delivered. Strengthening the National Infrastructure Commission and setting up a British Infrastructure Bank would be a good place to start.

When businesses are struggling to stay afloat, the last thing they should have to worry about is new red tape. There should be a moratorium on all nonurgent regulation, and a cross-government review on what existing rules could be temporarily waived.

In the long term, if we want to be world-leaders in high-growth sectors such as life sciences and artificial intelligence we have to develop a regulatory regime that better accommodates innovation and change.

I’m determined to see our country step confidently into its future by making the most of the economic opportunities that Brexit presents. The government has made good progress towards establishing new freeports as a way of driving growth and creating thousands of high-skilled jobs in towns and cities across the UK.

However, you shouldn’t have to live on the coastline or next to a major airport to benefit from our newfound economic freedom. The government should seek to match it’s maritime ambitions with new enterprise zones for landlocked areas, boosting investment and opportunity as part of our mission to level up the regions.

While the challenge facing my colleagues in government is immense, I am in no doubt that they possess the imagination and resolve to overcome it. Growth is the key to getting us out of this crisis. With the right reforms, we can not only rebuild the economy but put it on even firmer foundations than before.

The Centre for Policy Studies’ Going for Growth Conference will be running online from 0900 to 1700 today. ‘Robert Colvile in conversation with the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP’ will be broadcast from 12:45..

Newslinks for Friday 11th September 2020

11 Sep

Dozens of Tory MPs ‘prepare new Brexit revolt’…

“Boris Johnson is facing a revolt by up to 30 Tory MPs over plans that would break international law and allow him to renege on parts of his Brexit deal. The rebels have tabled an amendment that would bar the government from overriding the withdrawal agreement without parliament’s support. The government is also facing opposition from peers. Lord Howard of Lympne, a prominent Brexiteer, became the third former Tory leader to reject the plans, warning that they would damage Britain’s global standing. Lord Lamont of Lerwick, a former chancellor and another Brexiteer, said there was “no way” that the legislation, which would allow ministers to override elements of the withdrawal agreement, would pass through the Lords. A government source told The Times that MPs who voted against the government over the Internal Market Bill would not have the whip removed, unlike those who voted against Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal last year. “We’re not in the same place,” the source said.” – The Times

  • Gove says Government will push ahead with controversial proposals – Daily Mail
  • Ministers publish legal advice justifying their new Internal Markets Bill – The Sun
  • Government’s top legal advisers divided over move to override Brexit deal – The Guardian

Brussels:

  • EU gives Boris Johnson 20 days to retreat on Brexit Bill – Daily Telegraph
  • Brussels threatens to ban food imports in no-deal Brexit… – The Times
  • …and legal action over UK Brexit treaty breach – FT
  • EU has warned its ambassadors to gear up the “machinery of warfare” – Daily Express

Comment:

  • The EU will learn to love a no-deal Brexit – Matthew Lynn, Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson ignores backbenchers at his peril – James Forsyth, The Times

Editorial:

  • The justice secretary and attorney-general’s positions look increasingly untenable – The Times
  • A trade war would be in nobody’s interest – Daily Telegraph
  • The mooted state aid approach is misguided and interventionist – FT

>Today:

>Yesterday:

…as UK poised to strike trade deal with Japan

“The UK is poised to strike its first post-Brexit trade deal after Britain and Japan made a breakthrough on agricultural access, according to negotiators. Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese foreign minister, and UK trade minister Liz Truss will hold a teleconference on Friday morning London time to confirm their agreement in principle to a new free trade pact, they added. The deal with Tokyo will come at a welcome time for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as his move to unpick parts of the Brexit withdrawal treaty risks the collapse of trade talks with Brussels. Negotiators said they had reached a compromise on agricultural access to Japan, most notably for British cheese. But it is unclear whether the UK has won an export quota to match the one it had as a member of the EU.” – FT

Pandemic 1) Cabinet ‘divided’ over Johnson’s coronavirus clampdown

“Boris Johnson’s “rule of six” coronavirus measures have divided his cabinet with a number of ministers opposed to the clampdown, it has been claimed. The restrictions on numbers for social gatherings that start on Monday in England was met with disapproval from every member of the prime minister’s coronavirus strategy committee with the exception of Matt Hancock, the health secretary, a source said. “Everyone apart from Hancock wanted to set the limit on groups at eight or more” the cabinet source told the Daily Mail. “Even the PM was initially cautious about taking the limit all the way.” Tory MPs have accused ministers of imposing “profound restrictions on personal liberty” without any debate. One senior backbencher said that the new rules could be “worse than the disease itself”, while the Commons constitution committee insisted that MPs must have a chance to assess measures that were imposed without any votes under emergency public health powers.” – The Times

  • A Tory source said ‘half the Cabinet’ have expressed doubts – Daily Telegraph
  • Almost every minister on Covid committee argued against – Daily Mail

More:

  • Lockdown rules more divisive than Brexit, survey finds – The Guardian
  • Covid marshals ‘will have no powers of arrest’ – Daily Mail
  • ‘No evidence’ for new measures, says Welsh Government – Daily Express

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Curfews, fines and marshalls. There’s a flavour about Johnson’s new virus plans not of Churchill, but of Attlee.

Pandemic 2) Moonshot testing plan ‘could send 28 million into needless self-isolation’

“Boris Johnson was warned by his own scientists that a Moonshot-style mass testing scheme could send 28 million people into unnecessary self-isolation in just six months, according to a newly published official document. A paper published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) calculated that mass testing of the population twice a week – even with 99 per cent accuracy – would throw up so many “false positives” that 41 per cent of the population would wrongly be forced to self-isolate over the course of half a year. The Sage “consensus statement”, delivered to ministers at the start of this month, warned that schools could be forced to close and large parts of the workforce lose their wages over wrong test results. On Wednesday, Mr Johnson committed to carrying out 10 million daily Covid-19 tests – equivalent to testing every resident once a week – under Operation Moonshot.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Prime Minister accused of ignoring basic statistics by leading experts – The Times
  • Shapps admits tests still don’t work – The Sun

More:

  • May begs Boris for rapid-fire airport testing – The Sun
  • Gridlock as glitch sends people hundreds of miles for virus test – The Times

Editorial:

  • Johnson should stop fantasising about daily mass-testing the whole population – The Times

Fraser Nelson: Ignoring the lesson of Sweden makes a tougher Covid crackdown inevitable

“Sweden, now, looks like a country from a parallel universe. Children didn’t miss a day of school, there was no exams scandal, its economic hit was less than half of ours. While Britain prepares to limit social gatherings to six, Sweden is lifting its cap to 500. Tegnell says there won’t be a second wave. Its virus levels are now lower than Denmark or Norway and its government announced a surprise surplus for the month of August because its economy is unexpectedly strong. Debt in Britain, by contrast, is expected to have risen almost as much in August alone as in the whole of the 1970s. This takes us to the heart of the current dilemma. If it’s inevitable that a surge in positive tests among the young leads to deaths in the old, why didn’t this happen in Sweden? HowFT is Whitty so sure that Britain is facing a resurgence – rather than just a modest rise – in hospital cases?” – Daily Telegraph

  • These assaults on our liberty are a step too far – Iain Martin, The Times
  •  I won’t blame the young for defying idiotic new rules – Dan Wootton, The Sun
  • Britain losing its faith in its leaders – Karol Sikora, Daily Mail
  • Tegnell and the Swedish Covid experiment – Richard Milne, FT

Editorial:

  •  Johnson must rethink his covid ‘rule of six’…it’s a needless disaster – The Sun

Scrapping pensions triple lock is sensible move, MPs tell Sunak

“The chancellor should scrap the pensions triple-lock for a year and extend the furlough scheme in his autumn budget, the Treasury committee has urged. The Tory-led committee also called for higher welfare and sick pay as well as a “roadmap” to fix the budget deficit but warned against early tax rises. The proposals were made in its report, The Challenges of Recovery, in which it recommended ways to support consumer spending, keep a lid on unemployment and tackle soaring public debt. Economists have said that Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, should drop the triple lock in 2021 because of an anomaly caused by the furlough scheme. The policy, which was a manifesto commitment, guarantees that state pensions increase by the higher of average earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent.” – The Times

  • MPs back call for ‘targeted’ extension of UK furlough scheme – FT

More:

  • Levelling up red wall towns ‘risks failing poorest’ – The Times
  • British economy grows 6.6 per cent in July as coronavirus restrictions eased – FT

>Yesterday:

Freedom for Shetland

“It is a Scottish push for independence but not one that will go down well with Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland. The Shetlands, the most northerly part of the United Kingdom, have voted decisively to look at declaring independence from Edinburgh and London. Councillors there overwhelmingly backed a motion to find ways of achieving “financial and political self-determination”. The islands, famous for their ponies, sheepdogs and woolly jumpers, have a population of just over 20,000. The archipelago also contains the Sullom Voe oil and gas terminal, as well as oil fields and lucrative fishing waters. Situated 111 miles from the mainland, and geographically closer to Bergen than Edinburgh, the Shetlands have not always been Scottish. They were once part of a Norse empire and the Vikings used them as a base for attacks on the mainland. They remained under Norwegian rule until 1472.” – The Times

  • Can Sturgeon turn them down without torpedoing her own bid for referendum? – Daily Mail

More:

  • Johnson plans urgent visit to Scotland – Daily Express
  • BBC Scotland to scale back coverage of Sturgeon’s daily briefings – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: The Shetland Islands explore secession from Scotland

News in Brief:

  • No, the Government isn’t breaching the law – David Wolfson QC, The Spectator
  • Fox is the right person to lead the WTO – William Hague, CapX
  • Hollywood’s hapless diversity bid – Douglas Murray, UnHerd
  • How Stonewall turned the police into political activists – David Scullion, The Critic
  • The fight for an effective, national Union – Henry Hill, Prydain Review