Trade deals – again

Labour, Lib Dems and Greens continue with their mantra – EU trade deal good, US trade deal bad. It is so silly.

We trade successfully with the USA, China and others today without the benefit of a specific Free Trade deal. Were we to be able to negotiate a Free Trade Deal with countries like them we would be able to improve a bit on the current strong trade flows by cutting tariffs and removing some other barriers.

There would be no need to sign a deal with any third country that did damage to the UK. We trade perfectly well now, so we should only sign a deal which improved on current trading. It is absurd to say we would have to privatise the NHS to have a FTA with the USA. No UK government or Parliament would accept such a proposition, and the President of the USA has already said he understands that.

This silly attack has now transmuted into some convoluted argument about the terms for importing and exporting drugs. Again, no UK government would sign a deal which harmed our exports of drugs to the USA, or which forced up the prices of imports from the USA. An FTA is only worth doing if things are better afterwards. The idea is to bring prices down by scrapping tariffs where goods currently attract these and where the tariff can be removed with no countervailing negative.

Meanwhile they also say we could not trade successfully or even at all if we do not have a specific agreement with the EU. This is another lie, ignoring the Political declaration signed by the EU which states our future relationship will be based around a Free Trade Agreement. The EU and all its members are also members of the WTO as we are. Our trade will continue to be primarily regulated by WTO controls against trade friction under the Facilitation of Trade Agreement and the tariff agreement that is central to the WTO with its most favoured nation basis. The EU signed the Political declaration for an FTA because it wants one. It is not some gift to the UK that we have to pay more for.

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Lack of trust stifles debate

Listening to the interviews on the main media is a frustrating experience. The interviewers assume all politicians are telling fibs, so they keep asking the same questions over and over again. The politicians expecting to be on trial usually play safe and stick to a few sound bites their party wants to get across. No-one is allowed to explain the complexity or nuances of many topics, because to do so would be seen as a weakness, or undermining the clarity of the approved soundbite.

The introduction of so called professional fact checkers is particularly corrosive. These people are often said to be experts. They are also people with their own political views, party preferences and biases, but we are not told about those. They may be an expert in their chosen field, but the point at issue may be one where different experts have different views. They are allowed to present as if their expert view is the only one possible. An expert economist for example is allowed to assert a future growth rate, without having to admit his or her attitude to future political events affecting the growth rate, and without having to explain that many other economists have different forecasts.

It is true that some parties and individuals in election debate wander well from the truth, whilst others believe in their view of the truth knowing they will have to deliver on it if elected. This has always been true, and used to be dealt with by the free flow of debate between the parties. When Labour lie that the Conservatives are going to privatise the NHS, past experience of Conservative governments and united voices saying No we will not should be sufficient to persuade many voters that this is simply a false accusation. I’m not expecting a BBC Fact checker to clear up that one.

Many of the issues in dispute are matters of judgement more than matters of fact. Many of them relate to the future, so they cannot be a matter of proven fact. Listening to a debate recently  about the NHS and trade deals showed what a stupid position the media have got us into. There was no background understanding that the fundamental principle of free at the point of use with health care delivered on the basis of need is shared territory between all the main parties. Nor was there much permitted understanding that for profit companies supply drugs, cleaning, catering and a range of services where that makes sense, and did so under Labour governments. No one is proposing harming the NHS in anyway by a trade deal so why dont the fact checkers guide us on that one?

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The future of NATO

Mr Trump has always been sceptical of multi national bodies. His disagreement with Nato has been primarily the feeling that the USA makes a disproportionate financial and military contribution. He points out correctly that most of the European members fail to meet even the minimum 2% of GDP spend on their armed forces that NATO asks members to make. The UK does meet the obligation and agrees with the USA on this matter

There is also a disagreement with Turkey that is getting bigger. Turkey has bought a Russian anti missile system, which has led the USA to deny it US planes given the way Turkey is likely to release security information to Russia. Turkey wishes all of NATO to join its battle against Kurds, when NATO has been in alliance with Kurdish forces in Syria.

The UK as host to this week’s 70th anniversary meeting had important work to do. NATO is central to the defence of the West and to our own security. The UK needs to help secure proper financing of the defence capabilities we need from all our allies, and to work to get our allies in more agreement about the importance and aims of NATO. For the last 70 years acceptance of NATO as a central pillar of our defence has been common ground between the main political parties.

Today Labour is unreliable on defence and hostile to the USA which continues to provide the bulk of the military capability of this alliance. Mr Corbyn has in the past been sceptical of NATO, often expressing more support for groups and countries which oppose us. Above all now we need to form a common position on China, on the threats from Iran, and how to respond to the cyber attacks which are now a regular feature of our lives.

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IR 35 needs changing

I am writing to the Chancellor to tell him he should drop changes which force self employed people to be taxed as employed. There is considerable worry about this amongst people who are self employed. A Conservative government needs to be on their side. The self employed make a great contribution to our economy and lack the support of a bigger employer if they lose a customer, fall ill or want to go on holiday.

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Helping people be better off

This election is about the prosperity and the well being of electors. Most of the parties in the election think they should tax you more as they think they can spend your money better than you can. The Conservatives offer more tax cuts, and want to help you earn and spend more of your own money.

Since 2010 Conservatives have taken many people out of paying Income Tax altogether and have cut tax for all standard rate taxpayers.  We have frozen fuel duties for nine years to keep the costs of travelling down. We have boosted lower incomes through the Living Wage. We have increased the amount you can earn before Family Credit is reduced. We are doubling free child care to 30 hours for parents with 3-4 year olds, helping adults to earn more.

Since 2010 income inequality has fallen. There has been a 3.7 million rise in employment as many new jobs have been created.

All this is at risk from Labour, Lib Dem and Green agendas. Every time Labour has been in government  since the war it has presided over a crisis which has pushed up unemployment and left the country more deeply in debt. This time these parties tell you they want to tax you more and spend more of your money. Why give them the chance when their policies will cost your family dear?

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Lifting confidence

Confidence is a precious flower. It is easily damaged or lost. The last three years have seen the UK’s standing at home and abroad damaged by political indecision. It has been undermined by a new coarseness of language and an anger of debate by some, and by MPs in the last Parliament who promised one thing to their electors to get elected in the 2017 election, only to do the opposite once elected.

Instead of a newly independent UK  developing better trade contacts with the rest of the world whilst continuing with many links, contracts and partnerships with businesses, individuals and institutions in  the EU, the UK was dragged down by its very own Parliament. The Parliament first voted to send the letter of withdrawal  from the EU, then did everything in its power to undermine the UK government’s negotiating position in the long talks that followed. Now in this election all  the opposition parties from the last Parliament seek to prevent or delay Brexit. They wish to prolong the agony, expose the UK to a longer period of uncertainty, and strengthen the hand of the EU even more in yet more  negotiations .

A second referendum cannot unite the country behind a single course of action. The Lib Dems have already said they would ignore another  vote to Leave. Why should Leave voters accept a second referendum result in  the unlikely event that  it went the other way, when their decision to leave has so far not been implemented. For the sake of UK democracy we have to accept the result of votes.

Remain politicians have always complained about anything which undermines confidence and defers investment. They must  see it is their attempts to stop or delay Brexit further that is now the main cause of the  very uncertainty they dislike. The economy can do well from here, but ending the political  uncertainty would help.

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Prosperity not austerity

When the new government announced its economic aim is to promote growth and prosperity it heralded a most important change. It was a change I had pressed for for several years, meeting with disapproval  from Mr Hammond.

The old government had as its main aim the reduction of  debt as a proportion of GDP. This requirement of the Maastricht EU Treaty forced the government to constrain public spending too much and to keep tax rates too high. Indeed it often encouraged Mr Osborne and Mr Hammond to impose new taxes that were economically damaging, like their Stamp Duty and vehicle Excise Duty hikes which hit the homes and car markets.

Now the promotion of growth is the aim it allows the government to make selective increases in public spending in areas like health and schools where increased capacity and higher quality requires more and better paid staff. It will also require more tax cuts on earning and on transactions in our economy.

The official machine has clearly hit back a  bit against the welcome revolution. It has  placed a weaker version of the debt control back into the fiscal framework saying that over a five year period state debt as a proportion of GDP should decline. This is an improvement on needing  an update of the position of state debt every time there is a  new forecast with adjustments made in the short term. At each forecast there is an OBR admonition and a new pledge from government to get the debt down.  

I support the control that says all current public spending must be paid for out of tax revenues. Allowing borrowing for capital investment is fine. It does require good capital investment assessments and good controls over build costs and project management. Some of these need improving as the government plans more public investment.

Meanwhile we await some signs from the UK economic establishment that they recognise the rest of the world is engaged in a battle to prevent the slowdown turning into something worse. Today’s problem is not the threat of too much inflation, but too little activity. The rest of the world is cutting taxes, boosting liquidity and cutting interest rates. The world should escape recession as a result.

In the Eurozone Mrs Lagarde has stated that she thinks the negative interest rates, money creation and bond buying they are still doing is as far as the ECB can go. She wants some fiscal relaxation to boost growth.

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The tragic events in London

Today our hearts go out to the family and friends of those killed in the knife attacks. I send my condolences. I also wish a speedy recovery to those injured.

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The pound has been rising

There has not been a lot of media comment,  but the pound has risen   from 1.06 Euros to 1.17 Euros since August  and from $1.21 to $1.29. The commentators say this has happened thanks to opinion polls implying a Conservative government that can get Brexit done.

Indeed, its not so far off the Euro 1.23 and $1.37 levels  it was at just before the referendum. Since then we have seen a worldwide strengthening of the dollar against most currencies, to do with US interest rates being a lot higher than Euro area, Japanese and UK ones.

Prior to the referendum and any suggestion we might leave the EU sterling hit a low of 1.04 Euros in 2009. In the 1980s sterling was well below current levels against the dollar whilst in the EEC.

There has been a lot of nonsense talked about sterling and Brexit. Sterling has fluctuated substantially against both the dollar and the Euro all the time we were firmly in the EU. Interest rate differentials, different outlooks for growth and inflation all have an impact, as does relative money policy.  Once out of the EU sterling will doubtless  continue to go up and down according to relative sentiment about our economic policy and  valuations as it has done during  our long time in the EU.

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The terms for a SNP/Lib Dem/Labour coalition according to Nicola Sturgeon and friends

I do not predict UK election results where I am taking part. The SNP and Lib Dems do, and are predicting a hung Parliament.  I see the polls as others do, and read that there could still be a hung Parliament where post election deals would decide how we are governed.  I hope that is not the outcome, given the disastrous last months of the last Parliament where no-one had a majority.

Meanwhile some parties are telling us how they would behave if the electorate voted for another stalemate.  Nicola Sturgeon has set out her terms to allow a Labour minority government to take office. She wants an early second referendum on Scottish independence, the removal of Trident submarines from Scotland and more money for the NHS.  Jeremy Corbyn probably agrees with the second and third, and Labour would doubtless finesse the issue of another referendum in order to get Labour into government.

Jo Swinson seems to have abandoned her rhetoric of expecting a Lib Dem majority. Whilst playing hard to get she has made it crystal clear she would not want to help a minority Conservative government, so it only leaves one option of Labour into office . It might well not be a coalition, but just allowing them to win confidence votes would be sufficient for Labour to take over.

The push for a second Independence referendum in Scotland would be disruptive. It would establish the idea that governments only accept referendum decisions they like and make people vote and vote again to get a reversal. It would invite further uncertainty over Brexit, with the parties concerned wanting a second referendum on that as well. It would plunge the country into another two years or more of constitutional wrangling and confusion, undermine  business confidence and get in the way of the new Parliament doing thigs to improve public services, grow the economy and pursue an strong and consistent  foreign and trade policy.

Now is the time for a clear decision. We need a majority government  to move on from Brexit and to remind the SNP they had their referendum and promised to accept its result.

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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.

    Promoted by David Edmonds on behalf of John Redwood both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU

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