There’s not too much EU news today. The papers are dominated by the Chilcot report, and the sports pages by the achievements of the Welsh football team (well done those guys – you had a great run).
The phrases “I’ll be with you whatever” (Blair to George W. Bush), and “I can’t say sorry – I’d do it again” feature on the front pages. One might have some sympathy for the man if he’d said “Look, at the time I sincerely believed that Saddam’s WMD were a real and imminent threat, and I also believed that after the Iraq War, peace and democracy would break out in the country. I was wrong, but I had good intentions, and I’m sorry for the errors”. But to insist, with 20/20 hindsight, knowing what we know now, that he’d do it again, is borderline bizarre – indeed practically deranged. Clearly Blair can never again be called on to serve his country in any capacity.
China open to UK free trade deal
In the post-Brexit period we’ve heard too much synthetic anguish about market volatility and far too little news about the new opportunities opening up. China has trade deals even with Switzerland – and tiny Iceland – but none with the EU. The Telegraph reports that Chinese officials have raised to prospect of a post-Brexit China/UK trade deal – so we could well have a trade deal with China years before the EU manages it. A number of other countries including New Zealand and Australia have made similar approaches, and there is a bill in Congress calling for a UK/US trade deal. As we promised, there’s a whole new world out there which is keen to trade with the UK, and these opportunities are a direct result of the courageous decision of the British people, in defiance of Project Fear, to vote for freedom.
While the FTSE as I write is well over 6,000 – a good level compared to recent months – Sterling is languishing at levels not seen since the miners’ strike – or so says the Times. In the Telegraph, however, Ambrose Evans Pritchard has an excellent comment column in which he points out that on a trade-weighted basis the Pound is just about where it was in March 2013 when, as he says, most people were not aware of the exchange rate. He starts his piece “Britain faces a frightening array of economic risks if Parliament makes a mess of Brexit, but a sterling crisis is not one of them”. He goes on to argue that a lower currency is the Holy Grail of central banks around the world, that a Sterling devaluation will help us to cope with the recession that he believes would be coming with or without Brexit, and will also help to cushion any adverse shock from the Referendum vote. Of course Osborne’s promise of lower corporation tax will reinforce that effect. So the Sterling slide may cost us a few bob in terms of petrol prices and foreign holidays this year – but it may be a blessing in disguise.
The vultures gather
The FT reports that Germany is making a play for London-based financial technology companies who may be looking to relocate following Brexit. Meantime France is joining the party, and dangling tax incentives for London’s financial executives to move to Paris. Given the hostility of President Hollande to financial services and banks, and the punitive tax levels that recently drove many French executives to London, I think France has a tough sell. Moreover before financial companies take on the upheaval and cost of relocation, they’ll want to see how the UK/EU relationship develops. The markets will stabilise, the sky will not fall, trade will continue, and they will conclude they’re better of where they are, amid the critical mass of financial, accounting and legal services which makes the City a leading global financial centre.
Fighting talk from Theresa May
Turning criticism to her advantage, Theresa May has picked up the accusation from Ken Clarke that she’s “a bloody difficult woman” She announces that “Yes, I am a bloody difficult woman, as Jean Claude Juncker will soon find out”. I’m not rooting for Theresa, but it was a good line, and shows a little more spirit from the dour Home Secretary than we’re used to.
Meantime Cathy Newman writing in the Telegraph believes that the organised and concerted attacks on Andrea Leadsom, apparently orchestrated by the May camp, may be counter-productive, and give her a “plucky underdog” image that could play well with Tory members in the final ballot. Certainly the scale of the attacks on Leadsom suggest that the May camp is worried, and it’s clear that May thinks Gove is easier to beat than Leadsom. Interesting times. We should have the second round result – and know which two names are going on the final ballot – tonight.
Two appeals to MPs
Lieutenants of Tory Leadership hopeful Michael Gove have been appealing to Tory MPs to support Gove in order to block Andrea Leadsom (who clearly stands a better chance than Gove in the up-coming membership vote). Conceding that Theresa May was most likely to win, the messages appealed to MPs to back Gove, and to keep Leadsom off the final two, for fear she just might cause an upset. The Gove team has apologised, claiming that Gove himself knew nothing of it. Interesting, though, that they believe that Leadsom could pull off an upset in the membership vote if she gets onto the ballot. I think they may be right.
In a still more preposterous move, a European Commission official in London has written to MPs calling on them to do all they can to reverse the Brexit decision, and casting doubt on the validity of the Referendum. While this does not seem to be a formal initiative from the Commission (which is, after all, calling on the British government to get on with it and invoke Article 50), it is still a fairly disgraceful interference in a British decision.
Brussels plots to cut finding to eurosceptic parties
Furious about the British Brexit vote, and angry at criticism in the European parliament, it now seems that Brussels wants to cut funding to anti-EU political groups. This would be a typical Brussels reaction. It would also be an affront to democracy. Voters are perfectly entitled to vote for eurosceptic parties – and are doing so in ever greater numbers (I see that our Five Star colleagues in Italy are now leading in recent opinion polls). And taxpayers are entitled to expect that when their money is disbursed to political groups, it is done fairly, based on levels on public support, and not on the basis of arbitrary tests of commitment to European integration.
Brexit hard or soft?
Mark Mardell writing for the BBC identifies a new fault line in politics. He believes that most politicians will come to accept the Brexit decision, so the new debate is whether we have a “soft Brexit”, a sort of “Norway-lite” option which leaves us in the Single Market, perhaps with some curbs on free movement, or whether we have a “hard Brexit”, effectively leaving us as an arm’s length, independent nation (like most countries in the world). As my colleague the Earl of Dartmouth, UKIP’s trade spokesman, has repeatedly pointed out, dozens of such “arm’s length” countries successfully sell goods into the EU’s Single Market, whether or not they happen to have EU free trade deals. We’re told that we have to have “access to the Single Market”. I agree. But the fact is that everyone has access to the Single Market, and so shall we. I believe we shall also have an EU/UK free trade deal. Why? Because that is in everyone’s interests – and especially in the EU’s interests. As the dust settles and the shock recedes, more and more people in Brussels are starting to talk about “a mutually beneficial relationship”. That’s what we want. That’s what we’ll get. Good neighbours, not reluctant tenants.
The end of Schengen?
The European parliament has voted to reintroduce border controls in a way that undermines the Schengen model. Increasingly, we see that idealistic EU policies just don’t work in the real world.
Germany toughens rape laws after Cologne attacks
In the wake of the Cologne sex attacks, Germany is set to pass new legislation that broadens the definition of sexual assaults, affirms that “No” means “No”, and will facilitate the expulsion of foreign nationals committing such offences.