We need a new economic policy

One of the advantages of Mrs May’s resignation is it will allow a rethink over the government’s economic and enterprise policies.

Mr Hammond has continued to tighten the fiscal and monetary stance , squeezing and slowing the economy. He has continued with Mr Osborne’s tax attacks on particular sectors and groups of people, damaging the housing and car markets in particular. Some of the tax hikes as with Stamp Duty and vehicle Excise Duty have done such damage to transactions and output that it has hit overall revenue adversely.

The world economy is slowing. The Fed overdid the tightening late last year, shocking the markets. That in turn is forcing a rethink at the Fed, who are spending the summer on a kind of study leave to think through a new approach to monetary targeting and interest rate selection. The Chinese authorities also erred on the side of toughness, slowing their economy. Mr Trump’s trade war has added to the gloom. World governments generally have hit out at the production of diesel and even petrol cars, taking actions which have created a car industry recession. As the UK economy has a large overseas trade sector, where the majority of our trade is with non EU , we need to be sensitive to changes of mood and growth rates worldwide. The UK needs to offset some of the gloom and slowdown elsewhere.

Instead we have seen a Treasury very hostile to Brexit spread gloom and negative stories whilst running a policy designed to slow things down anyway. The new government needs to take a sensibly positive view of our prospects on exit. We can afford a stimulus now to our economy, with more spending on priorities like social care and schools, and lower taxes, especially where the current rates collect less revenue. France has just had some tax cuts. France and Italy are trying to woo rich people away from London to their jurisdiction to invest and spend with them instead by offering a better tax deal. The USA has enjoyed a major tax cutting programme which has boosted that economy to be the fastest growing advanced economy in the world. China has offered some tax cuts to boost consumption. The Italian government is trying to expand its budget to help reduce unemployment. Only the UK seems wedded to the Maastricht EU rules to get the stock of government debt down as percentage of GDP to the 60% level.

It was symptomatic that Mrs May in her exit speech claimed reducing the debt was a great success of her Administration, when she should have said reducing debt as a percentage of GDP. If you are going to claim something like that as a success, then do show you understand the numbers. Success to the rest of us is higher living standards, more growth in real incomes, with low inflation.

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“We don’t believe you”

I talked to a meeting of Conservative students at Oxford yesterday about the themes from my book. I mentioned the growing strength of public opinion and engagement, and suggested the current polls are underestimating the numbers of voters, especially former Conservative voters, now giving support to the Brexit party for the future. A large majority of Conservative members want us out of the EU in accordance with promises made in the 2018 election and afterwards, and have no fears of leaving without signing the dreadful Withdrawal Agreement. The Conservative party can only hope to woo back lost voters once it has got us out of the EU properly.

I found, contrary to the views of some senior Conservatives, that the students loved a clear Conservative message based around ownership, free enterprise, lower taxes, and opportunity for all. They either welcomed or accepted we needed to just put Brexit behind us by simply doing it. There was particular interest in the sections of my book on the revolt of the motorist and how to handle green issues, and on opportunity for home ownership. There was no agreement about future leaders, with a majority undecided, but the most pro Brexit candidates got the most favourable mentions.

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Sterling and stock market rise

Yesterday sterling and the stock market rose after the resignation of Mrs May made leaving without the Agreement a bit more likely. That’s a blow to those who think No deal is bad, or those who think markets mainly respond to the endless Brexit wrangles rather than more normal considerations about interest rates, growth etc

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The next Prime Minister and the EU

The next Prime Minister has one immediate and urgent task – to get us out of the EU. Unless the Conservative party delivers soon on its promise in 2017 to take us out the substantial loss of votes to the Brexit party suggested in recent Westminster polls will be confirmed or may accelerate. We are long past the position where we need a new leader to find a compromise between Leave and Remain, or who thinks that a few tweaks to the Withdrawal Agreement will enable it to pass. Only getting us out by October 31st at the latest is going to get the government and the party the right to a hearing again from voters, and the space and authority to press forward with all the many policies we can then offer based on the freedoms Brexit delivers.

Any new Leader has to understand the depth and range of feeling in the country that the outgoing government and the official opposition have let the country down badly, by delaying, diluting and querying the whole idea of Brexit. We have just witnessed a huge tidal wave of support for getting on with leaving, and against signing the Withdrawal Agreement. Mrs May’s Agreement was designed in Brussels by the EU, and met with great opposition from Leave and Remain voters alike.

I tried hard over many months to persuade her to go back to the EU and tell them the Agreement could not be sold to UK voters and had to be changed. I argued with her to stand up to the EU and tell them if necessary we would just leave without signing the Agreement. In the later stages of her tenure as PM I urged her to do herself a favour by dropping the Agreement, to ease the obvious strains on her of the repeated disagreements and negative votes. I was amazed at her resilience in defence of a proposal which the country had already rejected by a large margin, and which this Parliament was unlikely to accept.

Some say we cannot leave without signing the Agreement because Parliament will not allow it. The only hope this Parliament has to reconnect with voters who have left both main parties in droves is to leave. A new PM can do so. Best would be to go to the EU, say we have messed them around for too long and we wish to leave immediately. If the EU agrees it can be done as the delay in our exit was done by agreement between the new UK government and the EU. We should offer a comprehensive free trade agreement which would enable us to leave with no new tariffs or trade barriers whilst over the months after exit we seek to work out and sign the detailed proposal.

If the EU would not agree to an immediate exit, then we need to wait until 31 October. Parliament has legislated for our exit then. A new PM just has to ensure Parliament does not legislate to keep us in. Government has plenty of powers to do just that, which Mrs May declined to use last time because she had herself decided she wanted to delay our exit if she could not have her way and sign the Agreement.

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Mrs May to resign

According to the media she will resign this morning. Comment here if you wish. The sooner we get a change of policy on Brexit, which clearly needs a change of leader, the better.

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The Cyber curtain coming down across the world

Mr Trump’s policy of banning Huawei and drawing attention to possible security issues with Chinese technology products and services may create a digital divide in the world. China claims to be the advocate of a more open approach, wanting access to western technology as imports, and seeking to sell her product into complex western systems. The President points out that any Chinese company can act as an agent of the Chinese state.

When I last wrote about this a majority of comments took the view that Mr Trump was right and the UK should back the USA up over the issue of Huawei access to western networks and systems. There is the question of limited western access to Chinese technology markets, and the way China enforces her own censorship and disciplines on the use of the internet in China to consider as well.

It looks as if both the USA and China, for different reasons, will conclude there has to be two different systems in the world, a Chinese one and a US one. China will want to block access to western material on domestic phones and computers, and the west will want secure channels and systems for its own security – as doubtless so will China.

There is a already a protective cloak around Chinese internet use. As this dispute develops we will see a more obvious cyber curtain come down between east and west. Countries within the Sino-Russian orbit may gravitate to Chinese systems, whilst all the countries in the US orbit will be on a US standard. The digital divide will be made of electronic firewalls,and extended by a refusal to connect each others components and equipment for fear of contagion.

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The last days of Mrs May

Yesterday more authority drained away from the Prime Minister. By the time she got to her Statement of her revised offer on the Withdrawal Treaty the Conservative benches were much more than half empty. Those of us who stayed explained again why we opposed her draft Treaty. The front bench contained mainly her hard core pro EU supporters, Philip Hammond, David Liddington, Amber Rudd, Greg Clark, Rory Stewart and James Brokenshire. It was a fitting visual backdrop for a Statement which failed to appeal to new votes in a Commons which has already voted it down on three separate occasions.

I gave the PM the opportunity to say something to Leave supporters around the country, explaining again to Mrs May that many who voted Leave do not regard the Withdrawal Treaty as leaving. It binds us into EU rules, payments and the rest for a further 21 to 45 months with no guaranteed clean way out at the end of that period.She had nothing to say to us. She repeated the mantra that her Agreement was leaving without tackling the strong hostility to it in the country and the obvious facts that it locks us back into making big payments, accepting all their laws and allowing freedom of movement for many more months.

I find it curious that the Cabinet has not yet moved to explain to the PM that she cannot continue. A number of the Cabinet want to run for Leader, and some are actively running proto campaigns for the role of PM. They should first remove Mrs May. It is against the spirit of decent conduct to be campaigning to replace her whilst in cabinet saying they support her and her policies. It may also make it much more difficult for any of them to win, as their first leadership task is to show they know how to secure the exit of the PM they wish to replace. By evening we got word that at last one member of the Cabinet resigned because she could not go along with the Withdrawal Treaty Bill after all.Still we are not allowed to see the Bill, so worried is the government about it.

If Mrs May somehow manages to struggle on into June and puts her Withdrawal Agreement Bill to the vote, those who vote for it will demonstrate they do not understand the mood of the nation or the nature of task of rebuilding support for the government.

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179 states trade successfully with the EU with no customs union or single market membership

I am grateful to facts4eu for reminding us of this important truth. You do not have to bind yourself to the EU to trade with the EU. Our industries already have mixed supply chains with components and raw materials from non EU countries getting just fine as well EU product.

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The loss of Conservative leaders

My years in the Conservative party have seen several leaders destroy themselves politically through a fanatical commitment to the EU. The odd thing is they have adopted this stance when it has annoyed many members of the party and evoked strong opposition from some Conservative MPs. Worse it has done considerable damage to the country and its economy, leading to a loss of confidence by voters generally.

John Major destroyed his leadership by insisting on crippling the UK economy by putting us into the European Exchange rate mechanism. The resulting boom bust undermined the Conservative reputation for economic competence and put the partty out of office for 23 years.

William Hague refused to take us out of the pro federal EU grouping of the EPP which annoyed supporters and added to his tribulations. His slogan of in Europe but not run by it was not convincing as it was not backed by a policy to get powers back. He won back just one seat in 2001 after the disastrous result in 1997.

David Cameron argued on the wrong side in the referendum and lost, destroying his Premiership. He could have stayed neutral or backed Leave and led us out in good order after the result. I never understood why he thought Remain would win or why he let them run such a nasty and negative campaign.

Mrs May appointed advisers who clearly wanted to recreate many of the features of our membership of the EU despite the vote to Leave. Her obstinate commitment to an unacceptable lock back in Treaty which the public has decisively rejected has led to the breakdown of her authority. Cabinet members campaigning to become leader need to now create the vacancy they crave by telling her she cannot continue. She will be the third PM victim of trusting the EU too much in ways which lose the trust of the UK people.

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Mrs May’s latest presentation of the Withdrawal (Delay in leaving) Treaty

Not a word or comma of the Treaty has been changed. The PM has long given up on any idea of renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement. As it remains the same Agreement I trust Parliament will give the same answer, and vote it down. I will certainly continue to oppose it. Better still would be to get Mrs May to resign now. If her only policy is an Agreement the public and Parliament have roundly rejected, it is difficult to see the point of her staying in office.

Today she says she will table a bill and allow Parliament to amend it over the customs union, single market, second referendum and the rest. Most of these things would need negotiation with the EU and fall later in the process if and when the Withdrawal Treaty is approved. It would be a deeply damaging way of negotiating our future with the EU, having made far too many concessions in the Withdrawal Treaty.

The suggestion that Parliament could legislate for a second referendum is a particularly damaging idea. Up to this point Mrs May has always opposed this with many good reasons to do with our democracy and the promises all made prior to the Peoples vote on the EU in 2016. I assume many more Conservative MPs will now join in voting against should this proposed legislation be brought back to the Commons.

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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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