BREXIT – What a difference a week makes
The past week has yielded so many interesting events that I have shelved my scheduled blog to consider the potential impacts to the whole EU debate.
In no particular order let us start with the UK Budget speech given by George Osbourne last Wednesday. All sounded good with much bravado albeit two of his three fiscal rules were already in shatters. But the economy is growing so such rules are only political rhetoric. However, he used this platform to make a clear statement that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) had provided evidence that UK exit from the EU would damage the UK economy in the short-term. This statement clearly aggrieved the OBR as, by tea time, they had completely refuted his representations as they only provided (conveniently selected?) views provided by third parties.
Then he expounded the view that we were all in this together as he slashed corporate taxes at the same time as slashing benefit payments (some £4 billion) to the most disadvantaged. Whereas there is no doubt that the welfare budget in the UK does need to be reined in, it cannot be achieved merely by setting arbitrary limits and crossing out figures on a spreadsheet with a complete disregard for social justice. Again, by the end of the week, these welfare cuts had diluted from hard cuts, to a discussion, to kicking into the long grass, to being scrapped with the very public resignation of the Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith who gave an impassioned account of his position on the Sunday morning Andrew Marr show. Let us not forget that this happened to Osbourne in his last budget as well.
Also, during his budget speech, he confirmed that the continued refusal by the EU to relax VAT rules to allow tampons to be zero rated, the so-called tampon tax (some £500 million pa), would result in the taxes collected continuing to be distributed to various women-based charities. The following day David Cameron went to an EU Summit meeting in Brussels regarding the important refugee crisis. Apparently, during a coffee break, all 28 EU leaders agreed to relax the EU VAT rules. Clearly not planned. Has Europe realised that BREXIT is gaining support? How many more rabbits will be drawn from EU hats between now and 23rd June?
It was interesting to tour the Highlands of Scotland a few weeks before the Scottish Independence referendum to test my view that Scotland would be stronger in the Union, and thus the vote would be to stay part of the UK. Having purposely stayed in B&B and small privately owned hotels it was interesting to speak privately with the Scottish people about their thoughts. In those 8 days only one person clearly stated that they wanted independence. Much was offered by the UK Government in fear of the noise by those shouting ‘independence’. Had they copied my trip they would determine that no deals were necessary. Everyone else was keeping their thoughts to themselves because of what they were seeing in places like Glasgow where Alex Salmond’s equivalent of Hitler’s brown shirt nationalistic youth movement were intimidating those who openly wanted to remain with the UK. Come the day the silent majority, proud of their heritage within the UK, prevailed. I would therefore suggest that rabbits from the EU, at this late stage, will not work. Indeed, I think the canny Scots are likely to deal Nicola Sturgeon a blow in the EU referendum. Ouch, Nicola.
Then we have the third fiscal rule imposed upon himself regarding converting the current budget deficit into a surplus by the end of this parliament. The general view on this pronouncement is that he needs a major event, such as an exit from the EU, to provide a credible excuse for missing this target, as most surely will be the case. But not because of misguided ambition as a budget surplus should be the goal for fiscal prudence, but the target has to be reasonably achievable with a balanced approach. Ouch for political ambition.
And Peter Mandelson amused me by suggesting that if Maggie Thatcher was still in charge that she would vote to stay in. Having known her views, I’m sure that she found the surrender of so much UK sovereignty to the EU by Tony Blair in her final years as depressing, and would certainly have returned from negotiations with a credible reform deal before even thinking of such a stand to remain a member. It was also interesting that Mandelson had conveniently forgotten that he proposed we join the Euro. Beware of the so-called Prince of Darkness.
Then I read a City Comment in the London Evening Standard by a journalist with the name of Anthony Hilton. Firstly, he was abusing a quote by a long deceased industrialist, Sir Arnold Hall, “What problem do we have which is so serious that (BREXIT) could possibly provide the answer”? Then he used comparators that demonstrated his armchair approach to journalism. For example, he states that the German economy can operate very well within the EU, so why can’t the UK? If he remotely understood the difference between the German and the UK economies he would understand the answer. Whereas the UK sits with the USA economy as an outsider, or open structure, the German economy is quite the opposite as an insider, or closed structure. Ownership of German companies is protected with incestuous patrimonial linkages between German banks and companies, with preferential proxy votes and cross-shareholdings. Foreign ownership of a German company is so rare that it is major news. An example of the vast difference this closed structure reveals can be illustrated by reference to the steel dumping by China. The incestuous linkages in Germany mean that steel users (car production construction, and other major engineering companies) can be compelled to buy from German steel manufacturers rather than buying cheaper steel being dumped by China. This is protectionism. Our open system cannot compel our companies to use British steel. So when our steel companies suffer the impact of dumping we can do nothing about it because it would require Government intervention – not allowed by the EU. And will Germany fully support an anti-dumping campaign against China – not likely as China is an important market for Germany exports. We should also remember that Germany makes the trade rules within the EU to favour Germany, as with the Euro fiscal policy.
He further cites Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Finance Minister, and one of the nationalistic dinosaurs standing in the way of the much needed radical EU reform, who stated at the recent BCC conference that, after BREXIT, any trade deal with the EU would be conditional on maintaining free movement, and continuation of some form of payment into Brussels. This is typical scaremonger nonsense. Do the USA, or even Canada suffer such impositions in their trade agreements? The German Foreign Minister was far more realistic. He endorsed the view that a free trade deal would be agreed within days of BREXIT irrespective of EU political views not least because the German Government would be bombarded by their major companies and banks because of the high level of exports to the UK, not to mention that imports from Germany to the UK are significantly larger than UK exports to Germany.
I could further dismantle his arguments, but would suggest that he listens to someone like Sir Peter Hargreaves, the co-founder of the very successful Hargreaves Lansdown investment manager, who has a real-world experience and suggest that not only would the UK be better off outside of the EU, but such a stimulus would re-energise the British people to take more pride in the UK, buy British, and put the ‘Great’ back into Britain. For certain the UK has problems in productivity, poor venture investment, and lack of manufacturing. Perhaps a refusal by the EU to provide goods will stimulate the UK to make their own – a boost to employment, and needed reduction in the balance of payments – all positive. We could also relabel our much heralded sparkling wine as Champagne (as do the Americans), retain our traditions of sausages, Cornish pasties, pork pies et al without meddling interference in the British way of life from Brussels.
My final observation for today is the visit by Obama to Cuba. The opportunity to re-engage with Cuba has been staring at Europe for some years, with the doors open to engage. Whilst visiting a few years ago on an exploratory trip ‘America’ still invoked hatred with the Cuban people because of the Bay of Pigs incident. The opportunities for European businesses was considerable, as was the opportunity to substantially re-establish original European businesses in sugar, and other agri-products, as well as new off-shore oil & gas finds. The inward looking nature of the EU has surrendered this opportunity to the USA who will now move in and, no doubt, ignore repatriation of former European assets. The British understand the importance of such opportunities because of their historic trans-global, outward view of the world, in stark contrast to the introspective view of the EU.
Let us hope that the coming weeks are somewhat quieter, and less damaging.