“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.
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.
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.
“I am not going to offer the incoming president advice about how to conduct himself”. So said Federal Reserve boss Janet Yellen last week, as the US central bank raised interest rates for only the second time in a decade.
The rate increase, in and of itself, wasn’t surprising. For months, various members of the Fed’s policy-making board have been publicly stating that higher rates were in the works. Still, despite the “quarter point” hike from 0.5pc to 0.75pc being “baked into” asset prices ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, the market reaction has been quite volatile.
Theresa May has long refused to give a running commentary on her negotiations with the European Union. Last week, in a moment of high Parliamentary drama, the Prime Minister conceded her government will now publish a “Brexit plan” before triggering Article 50 by March next year.
Having backed Brexit, I’ve always recognized it may be unwise for the government to disclose its desired negotiating outcome. These two statements aren’t linked. However you voted in June, everyone should acknowledge the potential downsides of the UK showing its hand ahead of what could be some extremely hard bargaining.
“In the absence of a major financial meltdown, oil will end 2016 north of $60 a barrel.” So stated this column at the turn of the year – a forecasting flourish possibly fuelled by one Christmas brandy too many.
Back then, in early January, having plunged all the way from $115 in mid-2014, Brent crude was trading at $37 a barrel. In February, oil fell again, going below $30. At that point, my $60 prediction looked silly.