“Events over the last few days have shown some in Brussels don’t want these talks to succeed, don’t want Britain to prosper”. That was Theresa May’s understated response to the merde tipped on her by Jean-Claude Juncker.
The President of the European Commission attended a private Downing Street dinner and acted courteously all evening. His henchman then told a German newspaper the UK Prime Minister is “deluded” for suggesting any “exit payment” should be linked to a mutually beneficial UK-EU free-trade agreement. That’s annoying. The Commission then demanded the UK pays €100bn to leave the EU, up from the earlier €60bn estimate, while accusing May of “living in another galaxy”. That’s annoying too.
“After nine months on the launch pad,” wrote Boris Johnson in the Telegraph earlier this week, “Britain has finally engaged the most famous ignition sequence in diplomatic history”.
The Foreign Secretary was referring, of course, to Theresa May’s triggering last Wednesday of Article 50. The UK now has two years to agree the terms under which it will leave the EU, while trying to determine the nature of our future relationship with the remaining 27 member states.
What are grown-up investors to make of relations between Russia and the West? The rhetoric emanating from politicians and media commentators, in the US and UK at least, seems to be drawn from another era. Mainstream British and American newspapers are full of coverage about the Kremlin’s connections to US President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Some headlines go into full Cold War retro mode, talking of spy swaps and “Soviet agents”.
Russia’s official media has, typically, responded in spades. Against the background of the Ukraine crisis and related sanctions, accusations of “Kremlin meddling” in the US election have been met with more, even harsher, anti-Western rhetoric from Moscow. Such spiralling paranoia makes it seem like we’re through a bizarre re-run of the halcyon days of McCarthyism and Mutually Assured Destruction.
Theresa May is warning Tory rebels that if Parliament gets a meaningful vote on Brexit, the European Union will be “incentivized” to offer the UK a “bad deal”. She is right, of course.
But that doesn’t mean the Prime Minister should dismiss the prospect of the House of Lords inflicting a second defeat on the government, with peers today set to back an amendment requiring Parliament to endorse the UK’s final Brexit deal. May should, in contrast, turn what seems like an inconvenience to her political and diplomatic advantage.
I’m pleased Theresa May has been talking directly with Donald Trump about the UK-US free trade deal. Everyone with the best interests of the British economy at heart should also be positive – whether they back Remain or Leave and whatever they think of the 45th President.
The US is, on most measures, the biggest economy on earth. Much maligned, sometimes deservedly so, America remains the world’s commercial, technological and financial powerhouse – to say nothing of its military strength.
‘Did you really deserve the Nobel prize?’ I ask Amartya Sen. ‘Why do you think you won?’ When you’re sitting opposite the world’s most respected living economist, at a time when the dismal science is under intense scrutiny, an opening question should be punchy.
Thankfully, Sen, an 83-year-old Harvard professor, has a sense of humour. ‘You can’t ask me that,’ he says while laughing warmly. ‘I have absolutely no idea why I won.’
So, it’s official. Donald Trump is US President. Now the inauguration has happened, the transformation is complete – from fast-talking business-man-turned-reality-TV-star to leader of the free world.
“The Donald” was elected, of course, on a wave of pretty lurid campaign rhetoric. The question now is to what extent he will act on his talk of “mass deportations” and “sky-high tariffs” – and the potential impact on the world’s biggest economy.
My Christmas holiday wasn’t entirely spent eating turkey sandwiches and watching television. A sizeable chunk was devoted, instead, to reading European Union Treaties, typing furiously at my keyboard.
The result is “Clean Brexit” – a paper I’ve written with the highly-regarded City economist Gerard Lyons, copies of which are doing the rounds at Westminster.
UK manufacturing expanded at its fastest pace for two-and-a-half years in December, according to survey data released last week. Britain’s PMI manufacturing index soared to 56.1, up from 53.1 the month before – where readings above 50 indicate growth.
Our all-important services sector – no less than four-fifths of our economy – is also buoyant. Services growth hit a 17-month high last month, the PMI services index reaching 56.2, as employers saw a pick up in both new orders and jobs.
Goodbye 2016 – and, in the minds of many, “good riddance”. There’s no denying that the UK’s Brexit vote, combined with “The Donald” winning the US election have made this year, for some, an annus horribilis.
The grim drumbeat of on-going terrorists atrocities and, at the other extreme, the passing of an unnervingly large number of much-loved cultural figures, means we can all agree 2016 has had its share of bad news.