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Brexit on agenda as British Irish Chamber meets Brokenshire

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UK secretary of state for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire discussed Brexit with chambers of commerce from across Ireland at a British Irish Chamber of Commerce working lunch at KPMG in Dublin yesterday.

The UK/EU departure talks were top of the agenda, with Brokenshire reiterating the UK government’s commitment to “frictionless trade on the island of Ireland” as he explained his government’s negotiating position.

“The British Irish Chamber is delighted to be hosting secretary of state Brokenshire in Dublin today,” said director general John McGrane. “Given the number of political engagements the secretary of state has to keep while in town, I think his availability to meet with business groups shows the importance of maintaining the vital trade network that exists on the island.

“The chamber welcomed the publication of last week’s papers and especially the commitment shown by the UK government to borderless trade on the island of Ireland and the continuation of the Common Travel Area,” he said. “While we are happy to see suggestions put forward to maintain both of these, we are still cautious about the feasibility of these proposals and will continue to positively engage with governments on both sides to ensure that a solution is found that works for all concerned.”

Trade between Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England is wroth €60bn per annum and supports 400,000 jobs according to the chamber, which represents businesses and employers with interests in both islands.

Shaun Murphy, managing partner of KPMG noted that “there is an urgent need to forge both practical and realistic solutions to address the Brexit issues of relevance to Ireland – North and South – and we welcome all efforts to resolve these matters in the interests of business across the island.”

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Inflation at 2.6% as Bank of England leaves rates untouched

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The Bank of England has decided to leave interest rates at 0.25% in a 6-2 split decision, and announced that inflation is at 2.6% for June, up from 2.3% in March.

Governor Mark Carney also outlined an analysis of Brexit and options available to the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC). “The UK economy is beginning the process of adjusting to a new, as yet uncertain, economic relationship with the European Union,” he said today.

“Monetary policy cannot prevent the weaker real incomes likely to accompany the move to new trading arrangements with the EU, but it can influence how this hit to incomes is distributed between job losses and price rises. And it can support UK households and businesses as they adjust to such profound change.”

Carney also said that markets, households and businesses reacted in different ways to the referendum outcome, with markets expecting poorer UK economic performance, households being slow to react but eventually slowing their spending, and businesses investing “less aggressively”.

“In the MPC’s central projection, GDP growth remains sluggish in the near term as the squeeze on households’ real incomes continues to weigh on consumption,” he said. “Growth then picks up to just above its reduced – or modest – potential rate as net trade and business investment firm up and consumption growth gradually recovers in line with modestly rising household incomes.”

The MPC expects inflation to peak around 3% in October and to remain around 2.75% until early next year, Carney also predicted.

“Conditional on the current market curve, which implies that bank rate will rise by half a percentage point over the next three years, inflation is projected to remain a little above the target at the end of the forecast period – an overshoot that reflects entirely the effects of the referendum-related fall in sterling.”

 

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Britain ‘weary’ of austerity, says Hammond in Mansion House speech

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British voters have tired of austerity and the health of the UK’s economy depends on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, UK chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond said in his Mansion House speech on Tuesday.

The annual event, delayed due to last week’s Greenfell Tower disaster, saw the chancellor lean towards a ‘soft’ Brexit with economic matters to the fore.

“Britain is weary after seven years of hard slog repairing the damage of the great recession,” said Hammond. “Funding for public services can only be delivered in one of three ways: higher taxes; higher borrowing; or stronger economic growth. And only one of those three choices is a long-term sustainable solution for this country in the face of the inexorable pressure of an ageing population.”

Hammond addressed Brexit in milder terms than he did on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show in which he said “no deal would be a very, very bad outcome for Britain” on Sunday.

“The future of our economy is inexorably linked to the kind of Brexit deal that we reach with the EU,” he said yesterday.

“Our departure from the EU is underway. But ensuring that it happens via a smooth pathway to a deep and special future partnership with our EU neighbours, one that protects jobs, prosperity, and living standards in Britain, will require every ounce of skill and diplomacy that we can muster.

“Yesterday was a positive start. It will get tougher. But we are ready for the challenge,” he said.

Brexit negotiations, led by Brexit secretary David Davis and EU negotiator Michel Barnier, opened in Luxembourg on Monday.

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Are businesses turning away from Theresa May?

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Katya Puyraud of Euro Start Entreprises interprets the mood in advance of election day.

Think Conservatives and you think business. The current governing party has always been inextricably tied to the interests of commerce in the UK, back to Thatcher and beyond. Their policies of privatisation, corporation tax cuts and red tape reduction have developed an image of economic competence that has seen businesses back them to the hilt. A combination of vocal support and party funding has formed a significant part of the last two Tory electoral victories.

Recently, however, this cast-iron support has come under question. An apparent move away from the party’s favoured free market economic model has left businesses lukewarm and wondering where the Tories are headed. While it’s debatable whether the opposition’s vision is more palatable to business, the fact that this debate is even being had may worry the current government in the run up to June 8th.

Manifesto malaise
The Conservative manifesto has been a difficult sell for many groups, but the most unusual dissent has come from business interests. Analysis by the Telegraph of small business leaders suggests that the reaction on social media has been almost overwhelmingly disapproving: over 50% of responses were negative, and only 8% were clearly positive. Larger businesses have not taken it much better, with Morrisons boss Andy Higginson calling their policies an “attack on business.”

Chief among the complaints is the lack of costing throughout the manifesto, making up 34% of complaints logged by the Telegraph. This is thrown into particularly stark relief by the ‘fully costed’ Labour manifesto, though there are indications that this was rushed and is not entirely accurate. Still, combined with the recent U-turn on the cost of social care, May seems to have undermined the ‘strong and stable’ slogan that has been the bedrock of her campaign.

It is the general willingness to complain that might hurt May the most. The manifesto pledges are only the latest in a line of decisions that have tested the resolve of the business community; these include raising the minimum wage, a controversial apprenticeship levy and a flagship policy to cap energy prices. With the additional burden of slowing consumer spending and political uncertainty, business leaders say they are struggling to shoulder these burdens.

Deal or no deal
Dwarfing these, however, is the thorny issue of Brexit. Businesses have put a brave face on things, and most feel confident of pulling through what will be a challenging period. But they still face a significant instability, not least because of the government’s insistence on a ‘hard Brexit’, and an unwillingness to clarify its negotiating position this early on.

For businesses contributing to the UK’s £14.3bn trade deficit, import costs have risen thanks to the weakened pound sterling. These now have to be passed on to consumers who are spending less, contributing to the recent fall in growth. And the future of exporters remains uncertain, with 44% of UK exports going to other EU countries.

It’s notable that in the weeks since the manifesto launch, Theresa May has moved away from domestic policy issues and back towards Brexit. While she notably did not support it, her apparent willingness to leave negotiations with ‘no deal’, as opposed to ‘a bad deal’, has won plaudits.

Whether this is an economically sensible approach is questionable; any deal involving billions of pounds in settlements is likely to be seen as a bad deal. But what some would see as stubbornness, many see as strength – a quality that the more demure Jeremy Corbyn sometimes is perceived to lack.

Opinion still varies on Brexit when it comes to ideological grounds, as well as other political factors, but it did not represent the pragmatic choice. The ability to acquire the best person for the job and trade freely only benefits business, and these abilities remain under direct threat. The last thing SMEs want from the government at this uncertain juncture is policies that upset the status quo.

Labouring the point
On these grounds at least, Labour do not present a particularly credible alternative. Jeremy Corbyn has proposed a tax rise for the top 5% of earners in order to pay for massive public expenditure, as well as nationalising certain keystone industries; none of this plays particularly well to larger businesses. Questions have also been raised of Corbyn’s leadership qualities following Labour infighting, something that may inhibit his influence on the global stage.

But smaller enterprise will not be hit by these tax cuts, and big business is hardly in favour of the Tories’ move to give employees more power in the boardroom. While its position on Brexit has been muddled, Labour also represents the most likely choice to pursue a softer approach to negotiations, and would do so without the dubious services of Boris Johnson.

What this shift represents remains uncertain. It is entirely possible that business interests will continue to simmer, aware that there are few options other than to quietly lobby government. But the outcome of the election could prove decisive.

A more likely scenario than a Labour victory would be a coalition government. This would have the potential for more balanced policymaking, involving both sides of the spectrum – and both sides of the Brexit vote – in decisions with decades of consequences. But it could also descend into unwelcome chaos and uncertainty, given the polarised opinions on each side. It would also throw doubt on Theresa May’s mandate to continue as both prime minister and party leader.

As ever, British enterprise will try to adapt to the hand it’s given. Brexit is not an immediate positive or a long-term one, but enough remains to be negotiated that businesses can be optimistic. While social issues have altered the momentum of the election campaign, the battle for Brexit is probably where the war will be won.

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Former journalist Katya Puyraud is the co-owner of Euro Start Entreprises, specialising in company formation in France and the rest of the EU. Since 2007 Euro Start Entreprises has helped budding digital nomads, entrepreneurs and expanding SMEs to open their companies in over 30 countries worldwide.

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Mayor of London announces Paris-London Business Welcome programme

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A new Paris-London partnership announced a day ahead of triggering Article 50

Just one day before the triggering of Article 50, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, and the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, have announced a new agreement between Paris and London, aimed at supporting start ups.

The Paris-London Business Welcome programme will aid growing companies to jointly domicile in the two cities, with help to set up including accessing co-working space, local tech ecosystems and discounts on accommodation. Eurostar have committed to providing preferential rates on their services to entrepreneurs.

The programme will also jointly showcase the two cities to overseas investors.

The announcement comes just over seven months after Khan’s deputy mayor for business Rajesh Agrawal revealed that talks on collaborative deals between the two capitals were underway.

JOINING FORCES

Announcing the deal today alongside Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, Khan said: “London and Paris are two of the greatest cities in the world and we have so much to gain from joining forces.

“Never underestimate the incredible benefits to be found when major cities do business together. Our great friends in Paris and across the continent are well aware that working closely together remains to our mutual benefit.”

The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said: “Paris and London share common values and willpower. We want to be attractive to companies all over the world. Since the election of Sadiq, our two cities have been working better together. We are developing new exchanges and new projects. All these initiatives will create employment, activity and economic growth. It is a very positive dynamic that the Brexit will not change.”

The announcement was made as  part of Khan’s visit to Paris and Brussels, with the London mayor meeting European parliament president Antonio Tajani and European commission president Jean Claude-Juncker today.

As part of the Mayor’s International Business Programme, Sadiq was accompanied on the Paris visit by a trade delegation of 15 fast growing London companies. The companies had the opportunity to showcase their innovations, meet with top investors and explore export opportunities in Paris.

 

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IFS predicts more spending cuts and low growth

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The Institute for Fiscal Studies has announced its Green Budget, with predictions and analysis highly critical of the UK economy.

The London-based think tank predicts that sharp spending cuts are due to arrive before the next election, with tax rising to a greater proportion of national income than has been seen since the mid-1980s: the IFS says that spending cuts and tax rises will continue into the 2020s.

The report was compiled with analysis from Oxford Economics, which expects a “relatively disappointing” 1.6% GDP growth this year, and 1.3% growth in 2018, with wages almost static.

“For all the focus on Brexit the public finances in the next few years look set to be defined by the spending cuts announced by George Osborne,” explained IFS director Paul Johnson. “Cuts to day-to-day public service spending are due to accelerate while the tax burden continues to rise. Even so, the new chancellor may not find it all that easy to meet his target of eliminating the budget deficit in the next parliament. Even on central forecasts that is going to require extending austerity towards the mid-2020s. If the economy does less well than hoped then we may see yet another set of fiscal rules consigned to the dustbin.”

Andrew Goodwin, Oxford Economics’ lead UK economist, said that the UK economy has thus-far achieved solid growth – but that it has been almost entirely reliant on the consumer. “With spending power set to come under significant pressure from higher inflation and the welfare squeeze, the consumer will not be able to keep contributing more than its fair share. Exports should be a bright spot, but overall a slowdown in GDP growth appears likely.”

“If the government is able to agree a transitional arrangement with the EU and make progress on a free-trade agreement then the impact of Brexit is likely to be fairly modest within our forecast horizon of 2021. However, the negative effects of leaving the single market and the customs union are likely to become clearer over time and we estimate that the new trading arrangements could reduce UK GDP by around 3% by 2030, compared with remaining in the EU. Should we fail to secure a free-trade agreement then the outcome is likely to be worse still.”

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Parliament to vote on Article 50, Supreme Court rules

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The Supreme Court has handed down its ruling on the government’s Article 50 obligations, with Parliament being given a vote to trigger the Brexit process.

The 11-judge court’s majority ruling was led by its president, Lord Neuberger, and has established that “the change in the law required to implement the referendum’s outcome must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely by legislation,” the judges said in the summary of their judgement.

“The Supreme Court holds that an act of parliament is required to authorise ministers to give notice of the decision of the UK to withdraw from the European Union.” The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved assemblies will not be given a say in matters.

Attorney general Jeremy Wright said that the government is “disappointed” but will comply, while Downing Street reacted: “The British people voted to leave the EU, and the government will deliver on their verdict – triggering Article 50, as planned, by the end of March. Today’s ruling does nothing to change that.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says that his party will work to amend the Article 50 Bill but not block it, while the Lib Dems will not vote for it without a referendum on the final deal.

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Britain “open for business” says May at Davos

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UK Prime Minister Theresa May addressed trade, globalisation and Brexit at Davos this morning in a keynote World Economic Forum speech.

May, who set out a Brexit strategy for the first time earlier this week, used the opportunity to speak in more general terms about the issues of the day – particularly globalisation and the UK’s place in the world.

“The United Kingdom – a country that has so often been at the forefront of economic and social change – will step up to a new leadership role as the strongest and most forceful advocate for business, free markets and free trade anywhere in the world,” she said.

May also said that the Brexit vote was a choice on the part of voters “to build a truly global Britain” and said that critics and said that international critics have failed to understand voters’ motivation.

She also focused on the pressures facing international institutions. “I believe strongly in a rules based global order. The establishment of the institutions that give effect to it in the mid twentieth century was a crucial foundation for much of the growing peace and prosperity the world has enjoyed since. And the tragic history of the first half of the last century reminds us of the cost of those institutions’ absence,” she said.

May said that Britain is “open for business” but set out a need for better corporate governance and social responsibility if globalisation is to attract popular support. “That is why I have talked a great deal about our country delivering yet higher standards of corporate governance, to help make the UK the best place to invest of any major economy.

“That means several things,” she said. “It means businesses paying their fair share of tax, recognising their obligations and duties to their employees and supply chains, and trading in the right way; companies genuinely investing in – and becoming part of – the communities and nations in which they operate, and abiding by the responsibilities that implies; and all of us taking steps towards addressing executive pay and accountability to shareholders.”

The prime minister concluded by referring to “that great Conservative principle – change in order to conserve”. “I am determined to make sure that centre-ground, mainstream politics can respond to the concerns people have today. I am determined to stand up for free markets, free trade and globalisation, but also to show how these forces can work for everyone,” she said.

This year’s Davos conference concludes tomorrow.

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Theresa May’s speech: five things we learned

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The UK prime minister’s Brexit details have been vague and limited to the “Brexit means Brexit” soundbyte – until she stood up at Lancaster House and made what is expected to be the only major policy explanation before Article 50 is triggered.

 

1: Brexit means out of the single market

“I want to be clear – what I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market,” May confirmed: here comes the hard Brexit.

2: And no more Customs Union

“Full Customs Union membership prevents us from negotiating our own comprehensive trade deals,” she also said. “I do not want Britain to be part of the Common Commercial Policy and I do not want us to be bound by the Common External Tariff. I do want us to have a customs agreement with the EU.”

3: Ireland will get special treatment

What to do about the UK’s only land border – with the Republic of Ireland – has been unclear to this point. “We will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the Common Travel Area with the Republic, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system,” May announced. “Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can.”

4: Parliament will vote on the deal

“I can confirm today the government will put the final deal… to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force,” May announced. Brexit minister David Davis has predicted that this will be a rubber-stamp operation: “They won’t vote it down. This negotiation will succeed,” he said.

5: Reaction: the pound rises, Europe laughs and the opposition are angry

Markets like certainty, and sterling enjoyed its biggest one-day jump since 1998, to $1.23, although the FTSE dropped significantly. The political reaction, on the other hand, has been mixed. The European media was hostile, with Die Welt just one of the outlets that interpreted the speech as “leading Great Britain into isolation”. Back in the UK, Labour and the Liberal Democrats went on the attack.

Shock as UK’s ambassador to EU resigns

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EU expert Sir Ivan Rogers steps down from his post months early

The Foreign Office today confirmed that Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, has announced that he will resign early from his role. He was scheduled to finish his tenure in November.

“Sir Ivan Rogers has resigned a few months early as UK permanent representative to the European Union,” a spokesperson for theForeign Office  said. “Sir Ivan has taken this decision now to enable a successor to be appointed before the UK invokes article 50 by the end of March. We are grateful for his work and commitment over the last three years.

Among the expressions of shock, former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg called the resignation a “body blow” to the government’s Brexit plans.

“I worked for Ivan Rogers in the EU 20 years ago – then he worked for me and the rest of the coalition government several years later,” Clegg said. “Throughout all that time Ivan was always punctiliously objective and rigorous in all he did and all the advice he provided.

“If the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in government, it counts as a spectacular own goal. The government needs all the help it can get from good civil servants to deliver a workable Brexit.”

Former permanent secretary Sir Nicholas MacPherson took to Twitter to express his views, calling Rogers’ resignation a “huge loss” and the “wilful&total destruction of EU expertise [sic]”.