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Ros Altmann: Brexit uncertainty not over yet for advisers

Ros AltmannGiven all the turmoil in politics, I want to look at Brexit this week. Parliament is so engrossed in this ongoing drama that other policy issues are being pushed aside.

The prime minister’s Chequers cabinet awayday produced a framework on which negotiations with the EU might be based, with proposals that would acknowledge the needs of British businesses, jobs and Northern Ireland border problems.

But two years on from the referendum and more than halfway through the Article 50 notice period, where are we really?

Unfortunately, we are still near first base, and everyone in the financial services industry is affected whether we like it or not.

May vows to fight on after cabinet departures

Advisers will need to hold clients’ hands through the political uncertainty of the next few months. Brexit is taking up most policy bandwidth right now; there are consultations and talks about reform but major initiatives are not on the cards. The cold-calling ban has been put on hold, vital social care funding reform has been delayed and things like the pensions dashboard are stuck in limbo.

The government wants free trade and alignment in goods regulations, but there is less clarity so far on services, which comprise the overwhelming majority of the economy. A system of mutual recognition of standards and products would be ideal.

Theresa May has adopted a more practical position than before. For more than a year, businesses have been explaining to ministers the importance of certainty over future arrangements and as close to frictionless trade as possible, while also ensuring standards are aligned so our goods and services are accepted in the EU and vice versa.

Time and again ministers told them not to worry; that Europe would agree to our demands.

Trevor Greetham: Preparing for the Brexit endgame

But in recent weeks, businesses decided those assurances could not be relied upon. Prior to the latest cabinet agreement the level of anxiety had reached fever pitch.

Uncertainty has already driven many financial services and industrial firms to invest overseas instead of the UK, and difficulties in attracting skilled workers from other countries has held back development of service industries.

The position of the extreme Brexiteers did not command a majority in parliament. The resulting departure of key hardliners could pave the way to a more sensible, pragmatic outcome.

The majority of Conservatives do not believe the British people voted to lose our manufacturing success or our world-leading positions in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, research and finance – yet that would be the consequence of an extreme Brexit. As the party of business, most back May’s more pragmatic approach. I expect her to see off a leadership challenge.

The sooner we settle such political manoeuvering and our relationship with the EU, the sooner we can get some of these much-needed initiatives back on track.

Ros Altmann is former pensions minister

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Comments

There are 28 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Pointless article!

  2. Neil Liversidge 23rd July 2018 at 2:23 pm

    Ros Altmann says “The majority … do not believe the British people voted to lose our manufacturing success or our world-leading positions in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, research and finance – yet that would be the consequence of an extreme Brexit.” Really? Why? We won’t suddenly become less intelligent and less innovative as a nation once we unshackle ourselves from the corpse that is the EU. If anything, the need and improved ability to compete in the world outside the EU will sharpen us as a nation, while the EU cossets and bureaucratises its members into an uncompetitive economic oblivion. Ask yourself the question “If I had a prospective business partner as used to the soft life and as poor at financial management as the EU, would I take them on?” Unless you wanted your business to end in a breadline the answer would be a firm “NO”. So, leave it out with your Remainer propaganda Ros, because you are part of Barnier and Juncker’s fifth-column that is making any deal harder to do.

  3. Julian Stevens 23rd July 2018 at 3:43 pm

    Are you really trying to persuade us, Ros, that Brexit uncertainty is why the cold-calling ban has been put on hold? Or why vital social care funding reform has been delayed? Or why things like the pensions dashboard are stuck in limbo? What a load of tripe ~ as, it has to be said, were most of your ideas for reform of the UK’s horrendously complicated retirement benefits framework.

  4. Julian Stevens 23rd July 2018 at 3:49 pm

    I asked when we were running up to the referendum: If we were currently NOT part of the EU and, looking at it from the outside, the vote was whether we should join as opposed to staying out and governing ourselves, how many people would have voted to join? To my knowledge, no reply, not a single one, was ever posted which, I think, is a reply of its own.

  5. Ros makes the point that May lost her majority for a hard Brexit, a crashing out of the EU without some sort of a deal. Recent polls suggest the British electorate would overturn the Leave vote if there were another referendum.

  6. Given how difficult it is apparently going to be for businesses from a non EU country like ours to trade in EU countries, how does one explain the relatively decent success of Apple, Microsoft, Ford, Nissan, McDonald’s, Sony, Nike etc etc etc…..
    Decades ago, if I was ever indecisive, my boss used to tell me to simply “make a decision, then make it right”. Reckon the UK should heed her advice…

  7. Heaven (or someone) protect us from obdurate Brexiteers. Perhaps they missed Max Hastings recent article in the Times. Unfortunately these Col. Blimps cleave to a long gone past. Time to have the double brested suits remodelled.
    I have advised all those even slightly eligible to apply for EU passports. These may even be “bought” from either Mata or Cyprus following a suitable investment.
    For those able emigration may be considered.
    The state of the country is profoundly depressing. We have an innept government with no better candidates in prospect (indeed many are even worse) and a joke for an opposition.
    We are in even more dire straits than in 1940.At least then we had the hope of help from the USA.

    • I have a friend who owns a coachbuilding firm and employs 25 people. He buys chassis and engines from Germany, builds them here for industrial use, and sells all of them back to Germany. Crashing out of the EU Mogg-style will destroy this business and throw the specialised workers onto the scrap heap. There must be lots of business like this.

    • Julian Stevens 23rd July 2018 at 5:49 pm

      The USA has clearly declared its enthusiasm for a vibrant and mutually prosperous trading relationship with the UK (which will be a good deal better than us borrowing billions of dollars all over again, all of which had to be repaid). And anyway, you’re retired and presumably enjoying good pensions, so what are you yapping about?

      Britain’s biggest mistake back in 1974 was to join the common market without an exit plan if things didn’t work out. We should have stipulated a 5 yearly opt-out.

    • Neil Liversidge 24th July 2018 at 8:24 am

      Well Harry, seeing as how you mention 1940, it’s worth remembering that the then US Ambassador Joseph Kennedy reckoned Britain was done. As a result, he was described by a UK Foreign Office official as “the biggest fifth-columnist in the country”. On that basis, my description of Ros as a fifth columnist is spot on and can be equally applied to you. Emigration? Go ahead. Love it or leave it mate.

  8. Interesting legal analysis by Martin Howe QC on the Brexit White Paper.

    It suggests the complete opposite of this article. Most notably, with respect to the Irish border.

    The author refers to “business” as if it were one.

    The reality is some businesses trade exclusively in the EU, some in part and most not at all.

    Those businesses shouting loudest tend to be the multi-nationals.

    Whose influences on EU regulation tend to be highly self-rewarding, and at the expense of SMEs and innovation.

    Is it any wonder EU productivity is poor, or that 90% of future global growth is ex EU?

  9. It always amazes me that these staunch Brexiteers never contemplate the possibility of being wrong. In spite of comments from business, the majority of economists and money managers and the majority of informed global opinion.
    As a staunch Remainer I work for a plan B (EU passports etc) but would be pleased and relieved if I am wrong and that the UK will prosper outside the EU.
    Meanwhile I am currently in a EU country and UK tourists are lucky to get €1.05 to £1. Compare this to pre referrendum 17-Jul-2015 when the rate was €1.43.
    What I wonder will Brexiteers do or say if THEY are wrong?

    • For Remainers, it’s ‘all about the money’and short-term-ism. When I voted to leave I had (and still have) no idea whether I will be better off or worse off financially (though I suspected in the short term my net worth would reduce – which did not happen).

      For those who say pre-referendum we were never given the facts, here are the Brexit facts: 1) we will either be better off or worse off by leaving the EU; 2) we will have control of our money, borders and laws

    • Harry, look back to 2009. Rate in Feb was 1.04 to the pound. I would have thought someone with your intelligence would have had a better argument than to use a fluctuating asset as an example. For 14 months prior to the referendum fund managers had been saying that GBP was way over valued and that it should be in and around 1.14 to the pound. If you are getting 1.05 at the moment you need to shop around as you are being fleeced in the EU country you are currently in. I got 1.12 at Tesco earlier today.

      • The rate at the end of December 2008 was 1.02 when we thought all our banks were about to collapse. The EU had been much more cautious and sensible in the lead up to that crisis. Fortunately Gordon Brown stepped in to save the world. We have it from his own lips.

  10. Bùt still no response to what happens if Brexi enthusiasts are wrong.
    0f course it ia about prosperity. The prime duty of any government is prosperity and peace for the population. Anything else is an irrelevant conceit.

  11. @Ken Durkin

    Not at all if it means that I am less well off. Anyway why do you presume I don’have control of my money? I have control, but see that my UK investments are in danger and that the sinking pound will make my new car more expensive (not to mention the likely tariff). My wine,clothes,kitchen appliances – you name it.

    As it is I’m lucky enough of having bought my Euros ages ago at a rate in the mid €1.20’s. The poor UK tourits here when they change are getting about €1,05. Goodness knows what UK banks are offering.
    I see absolutely no upside in leaving the EU.Indeed seeing the stste of our politicians and parties more governance from Europe looks like a distinct improvement.0

  12. @Harry Katz, the point I was making is that you personally will have as much control over our money borders and laws as you have now – that is, none!

    • I don’t find that a problem. Indeed I don’t notice it at all. I just cannot understand what all the fuss is about. I have posted till I’m blue in the face, but have yet to see a compelling argument for Brexit.

      What I do see is just nonsense. Just as an example take the matter of trade. There is much agonising about being able to trade worldwide once we are released from EU ‘fetters’. But Germany, probably the world’s greatest exporter, doesn’t seem to have a problem. Wherever I travel in the world German products are everywhere, from Siemens engineering, to Cars (of course) to kitchen appliances, chemicals and goodness knows what else. Just over 50% of their GDP is exports. We just manage 26.5%. Of which 50% is to the EU. Yes I know about our financial services, but currently Mrs May is seemingly letting that hang and the main discussion is on exports excluding financial services.

      • Harry,

        Germany does so well, partly because the UK helped rebuild it post WWII, partly because it has de facto dominated Europe for the past 50 years, and partly because of an artificially cheap exchange rate, thanks to the euro.

        Political independence and control are inextricably linked to economic prosperity. Who do you think was behind the massive German arms sales to euro-ravaged Greece, for example?

        UK exports to the EU is not 50% but just over 40% and falling. Even that is an artificially high figure, thanks to the Customs Union and CAP forcing us to buy expensive EU produce rather than the globe.

        How stupid were our politicians to give up trade with our Commonwealth allies on preferential terms, in exchange for – nothing. Commonwealth GDP is at, or higher than, EU GDP.

        It’s where the next century is heading, as the eurozone becomes an ever smaller part of global trade.

        Trading arrangements, especially just in time ones, can be resolved. Business always does.

        Which is probably why so many non-EU nations have done far better than us at exporting to the EU over the past 40 years.

        • I have no idea where you get your statistics from, but from the sources I research (mainly Economist, OECD and World bank) they seem figments of your imagination. Commonwelth GDP bigger than the EU?? Eurozone GDP = $13,374 billion China GDP $10,431 billion. USA GDP $17,348 billion. The combined GDP of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Nigeria and South Africa only amounts to $6,355 billion. Look it up. Do you think the other flaky Commonwealth countries wiill make up the difference? Of those I have mentioned only India manages to go above $2,000 billion and they are such stalwart traders wity us that when it came to buy their military aircraft the bought from France, not us. In spite of the UK shovelling foreign aid their way. Indeed much of the Commonwealth is an expense for which we get nothing in return.

          I do hope for the sake of your clients that your financial research is somewhat more robust.

          • Harry, I don’t know where he gets his history from as well as his stats. The UK rebuilt Germany after the war??? Perhaps the Marshall Plan was fake news then? And what’s all this massive German arms sales to Greece?

  13. @ Ken Durkin

    Let’s just call it the Brexit Red Bus syndrome!

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