A rushed and early PMI survey

There’s no let up in the efforts to talk the UK economy down. PMI rushed out a week early their July survey, with less than a full set of responses, to show that the confidence of a number of senior business executives fell when they got the result of the Brexit vote wrong. There’s a surprise!

These surveys have forecast recessions in the past that did not happen. Confidence took a nasty knock on 9/11 for understandable reasons but it did not lead to a recession. It would be surprising if many executives who by a large majority seemed to vote Remain suddenly expressed confidence a few days after losing the vote. As I discovered in the referendum campaign a large proportion of senior large company executives were keen to remain.

I suggest commentators and pundits calm down and await data on what actually happens June- October in the real economy. The signs I see suggest there will be no recession. Employment is at high levels, real wages are rising, and export intentions are up.

The Chancellor has said that he will await more data  and come to a judgement about the balance of the budget and economic policy at the time of the Autumn Statement in the normal way. I welcome that commonsense approach. If government borrowing rates remain at the new much lower levels we have reached in recent weeks post Brexit, he will have an immediate windfall in the form of lower future interest charges on government debt. He could use this to cut the deficit or to spend a bit more.  There is also the question of when will the government cease making financial contributions to the EU.  That money should be spent on our priorities, as argued here before.

There is no need to move to a government  surplus by 2020-21, unless the economy has by then  heated up too much and is in danger of going too fast. At current borrowing rates using some borrowed money for investment could make sense. It will be important to make sure the chosen investments do add to national wealth and income by being well thought through.

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3 cheers for France

Reports from Paris indicate that their President understand the Brexit vote well, and confirms the need for the ULK to follow its decision. He  indicated that the special bilateral arrangements over the  Calais border will remain, as Vote Leave predicted and Remain contested. He and Mrs May confirmed the wish to have strong co-operation over security and intelligence, as Vote Leave forecast. He said the UK should get on with Brexit, which is what the majority want in the UK. He said the UK should cease to be a member of the single market in order to control the movement of people, which again is in line with the Vote Leave position in the referendum.

The President did not  make any proposals for new tariffs or other barriers on his trade with us. It is still difficult to see what the issue is over trade. The USA, China and other large players have decent access to EU markets without being EU single market members. The UK currently has tariff free access and no-one seems to be suggesting tariffs up to WTO levels should be imposed, though these would be manageable. Too many so called experts who wanted us to remain now want to make a lot of money out of advising us how difficult it will be. The French President seemed to have a clear and good understanding of how it could be done quickly.

 

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The good economic news keeps on flowing despite the IMF

This week has seen record levels of employment, continuing good jobs growth numbers, and rising real wages. Yesterday the deficit figures showed it continuing to fall. Spending is under reasonable control, whilst tax revenues carry on rising.  In the second quarter of 2016 the deficit was down by £2.3bn compared to the same quarter last year.  Spending was up by 1.3% overall, including a large rise in capital investment. Revenue was up by more than 3%. This news was mainly pre the vote, when there was some slowdown of activity here in the UK and elsewhere in the EU.

April saw a large jump in Stamp Duty Land tax as people brought property just before the deadline for higher Stamp duties to come in on buy to let purchasers. National Insurance receipts are well up reflecting the good rate of new jobs growth. There are  no Petroleum Revenue Tax receipts, given the decline in Scottish oil output and the new lower price of oil.

Retail sales rose 1.6% in Quarter 2, after a rise of 1.2% in Quarter One of 2016. A number of important property deals have been signed since the Brexit  vote, including Wells Fargo announcing its intention to spend £300 m on a new office headquarters in the City. This followed hard on the heels of the purchase of the Debenhams store on Oxford Street post the vote for £400 m on a low yield.

The immediate fears of collapse and a big loss of confidence have proved misplaced. The IMF was forced to make a major revision to its forecasts, removing any sign of a UK recession post the referendum. The IMF now thinks the UK will be the second fastest growing advanced economy next year after the USA. This compared with their pre vote special forecast of a UK recession in 2017, with plunging share and house prices. What a difference a month makes! What a pity the IMF has become such an unreliable and erratic forecaster, meddling in member states politics.

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Free movement and Brexit

The government should not be drawn into discussion of free movement by our EU neighbours. The referendum was quite clear. We wish to take back control of our borders. Vote Leave expressly ruled out the Norway option or EEA membership, mainly because of the need to accept free movement.

The way to control numbers will be through a work permit system with quotas for skilled and qualified people we need, adapted to our economic and social needs. There is no need to stop people coming here as visitors or to invest and set up businesses if they have their own means of support. The controls should be on admission to benefits and through employers who will need to ensure the individual from the EU has a work permit, just as they have to for people from outside the EU today.

This method of taking back control also avoids difficult issues on the Irish border, allowing free access as today.

The only issues the UK needs negotiate relate to the basis for continued trade and business links. We should propose no change, but be ready to respond if they do wish to erect barriers in the way of their trade with us.

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The modernising project

Towards the end of the John Major era a group emerged in the Conservative party who called themselves modernisers. My initial reaction was favourable, as I too thought we needed to modernise, to generate a new agenda for a new century. Some of what they wanted us to do made sense. They promoted a new tolerance, an enthusiasm for civil liberties, and a less restrictive attitude to people’s individual lifestyles. During the Labour years they sought to ensure that a future Conservative government would not wish to change Labour’s legislation on these matters. Many of us agreed we would not repeal Labour’s social legislation, though we also came to see that Labour in office was too authoritarian, permitting new attacks on the government where it took away our lliberties.

Modernising  came with a price, however. It was often  factional, seeking to caricature or write off people who held different views or who were more socially conservative.  It was also based upon a love of the EU, so that advocates of true modernising decided few Eurosceptics who wanted powers back or wished to leave the EU could be seen as modernisers, whatever their views on other matters. Modernising  usually included an interventionist military strategy leading to UK engagement in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria, despite the growing opposition to this on b0th Conservative and Labour backbenches.  Some of its adherents wanted to see a realignment of UK politics. They wished to see a new party emerge of modernising Conservatives with Blairite Labour, flanked on the right by a Eurosceptic Conservative grouping and on the left by a true socialist grouping. They saw themselves as centrist. Others thought their military interventions were far  from centrist,and many Eurosceptic resented the idea that wanting to stop the transfer of more powers to Brussels was either right or left.

As things worked out, they found themselves liking coalition between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, as that restrained some Conservative policies and produced a government happy to recommend the transfer of more powers to the EU through the continuous drip drip of new EU laws and decisions. Quite often the Conservative /Lib Dem coalition had to rely on Labour votes or Labour abstention to carry its EU and Middle Eastern policies through.

In the referendum the Blairites and the modernisers came together as the core of the Remain campaign. The central axis of Peter Mandelson/George Osborne was backed by  leading personnel of the modernisers and Blairites.

Today it looks very unlikely that the Conservative party will split as its enemies might wish. The new Leader has united it by accepting the verdict of the UK voters on Brexit and by  promising to implement it. There were always far more Leavers and Eurosceptics than remain supporters or believers in the EU project in the unwhipped Conservative party. However, a split in Labour does look more likely. Mr Corbyn may well win his leadership election, whilst a large majority of Labour MPs may still refuse to serve him in Opposition jobs. Maybe the one  part of the modernising plans that will come to fruition will be the detachment of the Blairite Labour supporters and their attachment loosely or more directly  to the unashamedly pro EU Lib Dem party.

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The UK’s nuclear deterrent

Some people have written to me asking me to oppose the orders for four new submarines to carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

Last night I voted with the government to approve the purchase of the vessels. I did so because I campaigned on the Conservative Manifesto without signalling my dispute with this measure in it. I did so because I agree with the government that a submarine force is the best means of retaining an independent deterrent, with at least one submarine always at sea in waters unknown.

Some object because they believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament. The UK has gone a long in way in reducing warheads and  missiles as part of the multilateral disarmament undertaken in the post Cold War world. There is no evidence that a single country unilaterally disarming would achieve any reduction in the armaments of other states, but plenty of evidence to show that multilateral agreements do cut the numbers of weapons held by existing nuclear powers.

There is the ever present threat that more states will develop effective nuclear weapons. There is also the outside risk of some such weapons falling into dangerous hands in badly run or strife torn parts of the world.  In such a world it does add to our security that we have our own capability.

Some argue there is no point in having them as we will never use them. That is to misunderstand their role as a deterrent. We use them every day by deploying the submarines with them. Everyday they are at sea and we are not threatened by a nuclear power or weapon, the deterrent has worked.

Yesterday’s debate was most unusual. It is not uncommon for groups of backbench MPs to stick to long held principles and express views different to their front bench. It is not easy to go against the party line, but I certainly found it necessary when we were battling to get an EU referendum, and trying to stop the transfer of more powers to the EU. It is almost unprecedented to see the Leader of the Opposition defending his long held view on something  as important as nuclear weapons, with most of his party in disagreement. They demanded time and again that he followed the party policy he had inherited. There was something magnificent about his determination to change the policy and stick to his principles when he had so many votes and voices against him, even though I disagree with his viewpoint.

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Tragedy in Turkey and Nice

The UK media seems to apply differing approaches to 84 dead in Nice and 200  plus  dead in Turkey. I mourn them all and send my condolences to their families and loved ones. That is so much human grief and sadness, so many ruined dreams and wrenched lives. 202 remain injured in Nice, and 1440 in Turkey. That is a lot of pain and suffering.

Why did they die? The murderer in Nice is said to be a loner. ISIL has claimed  the dismal and violent credit for the deeds, though the security forces have no clear linkage of the dead lorry driver to the terrorist movement. The murderers in Turkey appear to be senior military commanders and the troops and pilots loyal to them who turned their fire on civilians and the buildings of their own state. It is almost beyond belief that trusted very senior state servants can in 2016 in a  close ally and neighbour of the EU and NATO use the terrible power of a modern government against its own people.

It is possible that  both these violent crime scenes arise in part  from the struggles in Syria and the wider Middle East.  The Turkish President and Parliament are hostile to the Kurds and working with some of the Islamist forces in Syria. The loner in France may have been recently radicalised by ISIL propaganda as they wish us to think. Turkey’s complex relationship with the struggling factions in Syria and Iraq is part of her present story. The armed forces who abused their weaponry to fire on their own Parliament and Presidential forces may well have acted to wrestle Turkey away to a more secular stance, though they certainly did not act on behalf of western democracy by doing so.

The position of Turley is said to be pivotal and central to the west’s own security. It is true Turkey is a large buffer state between the eastern EU countries and the Middle East. The EU’s approach of drawing Turkey into ever closer alliance has led to the recent EU/Turkey Association Agreement and to the acceptance of visa free access to the wider EU Schengen area for Turkish citizens. The EU is meant to stand for democratic principles, for settling political disagreements by arguments and votes, not by bombs. Where does this policy rest today?

The picture of the bombed Turkish Parliament building should be a warning to the west. By all means let us be in diplomatic contact with Turkey, trade with Turkey, be friends when we can. But let us have sufficient reserve in our relationship so we can protect ourselves from any lapse in democratic standards and any turning to violence as a way of proceeding politically. The EU has been too trusting, and has once again been overtaken by dangerous events. Just as with Ukraine, the EU lacks a convincing policy to deal with civil wars on its eastern doorstep. What will the EU do if the Turkish government reaction to these dreadful crimes is to erode liberty and democracy?

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Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy – the UK holds most of the cards in any negotiation

I want the full English Brexit. More accurately, without the word play, I want the full  UK  Brexit.

Too many people in government and the professions seem to think the UK is a weak petitioner which has to be very careful in case we are expelled from the single market. They talk of bartering free movement and payments in against some kind of maintained membership of the so called single market. This bedevilled the Referendum debate and still pops up in much of the mainstream media as if true.

The facts are very different. Getting our contributions back, deciding our own laws  and having our own migration policy were the three biggest points of the Leave campaign. These are all non negotiable. We should just get on and do them.

There then remains the issue of what access we have to their market, and what access they have to ours. We do not wish to be members of the single market, as that does mean accepting their future control over things we wish to control for ourselves.

We should offer no new tariffs or barriers on their exports to us. We should  accept we will comply with all their rules and regulations when selling things to them, as they are in those cases the customer. In turn they should offer us no new tariffs and barriers on our exports to them.

If they perversely want to place barriers and tariffs they are limited to an average tariff of around 3.5% by WTO rules. We should retaliate within the framework of WTO rules. Fortunately we can place a 10% tariff on cars and high tariffs on agricultural products, two areas where they are big suppliers to us. That should make it very unlikely they will in practice want to place barriers on our exports, to avoid such a response. Half of WTO trade is tariff free. Business and farmers on the continent will be lobbying strenuously against any such stupid action.

Some then say we cannot simply pull out owing to the law of Treaties! This is absurd. If they read Article 50 they would find it expressly says we can withdraw using our own constitutional procedures, which means in our case an Act of Parliament. They seem to be saying the EU is so ghastly that they will force us to remain in a Treaty we have voted down. I thought the EU was about democracy and human rights!

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An end to austerity?

I am glad the new government wishes to end the use of the “a” word.  It has been much used and abused over the last six years. It has been a rallying cry for the Opposition. It has been a misleading spin line used by the Cameron/Osborne government.  As a policy it has been lop sided and ineffectual. The last Chancellor did not succeed in bringing new borrowing levels down as promised. He relied on tax rises rather than on overall spending cuts. Within spending he did  make some cuts in welfare and defence many urged him not to make, whilst presiding over large increases elsewhere. I spent much of the last six years trying to explain what was really going on from the published figures, fighting against political lines from both Opposition and government which did not reflect the reality of the spending and tax plans.

So what will a prosperity driven policy look like? The government will examine how it can borrow money  very cheaply in today’s markets to invest in major infrastructure. There will be two constraints. The first is the difficulty the UK experiences in reaching agreement and in progressing plans for much visible large scale development. Sometimes we have too much delay to discuss, with endless consultations and arguments over whether a road or railway line or airport can be built. If the government wishes to cut through and shorten times for such debates, the best way would be much more generous compensation schemes so anyone adversely affected in their homes has the money to move or improve their property  if they wish. The second is the need to ensure we build infrastructure which generates a proper return. In the case of water or energy or telecoms there remains a market test to see if the investment pays. In the case of roads and heavily subsidised railway lines there is no such direct test, so government needs to make honest  study of need and economic impact.

The government will pursue its life chances agenda. This will be a package of policies designed to improve schooling, mentoring, training and access for all, so that more people can develop the skills needed for better paid employment. There is no more important task to raise productivity than to help each individual find a good place in our economy, with emphasis on more small businesses, more entrepreneurship and better rewards for success. Tax policy is also important. The outgoing government was more generous to large corporations with cuts to Corporation Tax than to individuals risking all in their own business with CGT and Income Tax. A very large company pays tax at 20% and a successful individual at 45%.

The government needs to worry about the balance of payments. The first and easy way to cut the outflows is to repatriate our EU contributions, slicing £12 bn off the balance of payments deficit. Spending the £10bn net public sector contribution here at home would give a welcome boost to jobs and output. I would bring that forward even if there is delay in cancelling the payments. Let’s have the removal of VAT on domestic fuel, and the extra spending o n the NHS with more nurses and doctors as identified in the Brexit  budget first published here.

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Glimmers of hope in economic policy

Yesterday the Governor of the Bank of England thought better of the much touted idea that he would cut interest rates by a further 0.25%.

I am glad he made this decision. I had argued here before the event  that another cut at these tiny levels could undermine  the value of sterling further without doing much positive.

We have got used to Mr Carney’s chronic inability to forecast anything accurately including his own conduct.We had three separate pieces of guidance  from him heralding increases in rates, only for him to change his mind and  ignore his own triggers for raising them. This time he changed his mind on cutting them.

 

It looks as if Mr Carney decided  better of it thanks to the removal of Mr Osborne from office. The  appointment of a new Chancellor less wedded to Project fear and less associated with the absurd gloomy forecast of the pre referendum Treasury may have persuaded him to be more cautious.

The UK economy has just received a monetary stimulus from the devaluation and loosening. It would be an odd time to add to that stimulus by further unusual monetary relaxation.

I am expecting the property market to improve after the strange attempted shake out from open ended commercial property funds. I also expect consumer spending to pick up after a summer and weather induced lull. I see no need for panic measures.

 

The new Chancellor seems to have dumped the world”austerity” and seems to want to promote prosperity. That is exactly  the right approach. Meanwhile share and bond markets continue to prosper. Let’s go for Prosperity, not austerity. Let’s get our contributions back form the EU quickly and spend them on things we want.

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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