Having last week announced his intention to leave Parliament after 34 years, Former Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley used his final Prime Minister’s Questions to wish Theresa May “Godspeed”. The member for Hitchen and Harpenden also asked his party leader if she still recognized, when it comes to the UK’s Article 50 negotiations, “that to get a reasonable deal we must accept that no deal is better than a bad deal”?
May famously used this phrase in her pivotal Lancaster House speech on Brexit in January. In stark contrast to her predecessor, who foolishly declared up front his support for Remain in last summer’s referendum on European Union membership, whatever the outcome of his “renegotiation”, May took a much tougher line.
Britain will be among the fastest-growing economies in the industrialized world this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. With the UK set to expand by 2pc in 2017, outstripping Germany, France, Japan and second only to the United States, the IMF last week became the latest in a long line of official forecasters to ditch predictions of British economic woe after last summer’s Brexit vote.
It wasn’t the IMF, though, that caused the pound to rally last week – even if its UK growth forecast was sharply increased from 1.5pc, with Britain getting the biggest upgrade of any major economy. Sterling surged by 4pc against the dollar last Tuesday, hitting a six-and-half month high, because of a snap election.
For decades, across much of the UK, far too few homes have been built. The average house now costs almost eight times annual earnings – an all-time record. In London and the South-East, of course, this ratio is even higher.
Much of “generation rent” is simply unable to buy a home. For millions of youngsters, even those with professional qualifications and good jobs, property-ownership is an ever more distant dream. Ten years ago, 64pc of 25- to 34-year olds, the crucial family-forming age group, owned their own home. In 2015, it was 39pc.
Caution is warranted,” said Gertjan Vlieghe last week, as he argued now isn’t the time to raise interest rates. I’d say Vlieghe, a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, should reconsider.
The UK is heading for a downturn, believes the half-Belgian economist, as the fall in sterling after last summer’s Brexit vote pushes up inflation, so squeezing household finances. “The consumer slowdown, which initially didn’t materialize, now appears to be under way,” said Vlieghe during a speech in London, arguing rates should stay put at an ultra-low 0.25pc.
“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 should we make of this latest rise in UK inflation? Is it because of Brexit? And are interest rates now set to rise for the first time in almost a decade?
This was a sharp inflation increase. In February, the consumer price index was 2.3pc higher than in the same month in 2016, compared to a 1.8pc annual increase the month before. Less than six months ago, in October 2016, annual CPI inflation was remarkably subdued, at 0.9pc. Now UK inflation has shot above the Bank of England’s 2pc target for the first time since 2013.
“Britain’s example will make everyone realize it’s not worth leaving,” says European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The President of the European Commission, on hearing the UK will trigger Article 50 on Thursday week, demanded a £50bn “divorce payment”.
So what if the UK has made some of the largest financial contributions of any member state? Since 2000 alone, we’ve paid £90bn more to the European Union than we got back.
As one Brexit hurdle is cleared, the doom-mongers erect another. Ahead of last June’s referendum, the Treasury warned ad nauseam that voting to leave the European Union would spark “an immediate and profound economic shock”.
Since that vote, with the economy holding up regardless, we’ve seen endless legal battles and Parliamentary shenanigans stopping the Prime Minister from even getting the Brexit ball rolling.
Philip Hammond’s spring Budget was a disaster. The Chancellor’s decision last week to knock the self-employed, at a time when such flexible, often entrepreneurial workers have helped drive the UK’s employment boom, has badly backfired.
This row over national insurance contributions, though, while serious, shouldn’t detract from other important aspects of this budget. On the plus side, Hammond confirmed corporation tax will fall from 20pc to 19pc next month and 17pc by 2020. I was also pleased by what looks like a genuine commitment to boost vocational training.
This was Philip Hammond’s first Spring Budget but, as he said himself, his last. From now on, there will be just one annual budget statement, every autumn. The Chancellor looked relaxed yesterday and even cracked some pretty good jokes at Jeremy Corbyn’s expense.
Faced with weak opposition, though, Hammond delivered a centrist, somewhat Blairite budget, rather than a package backing wealth-creation and entrepreneurs. Worse than that, he spectacularly failed to get a grip on the UK’s wayward public finances.