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.
We saw plenty Brexit-related headlines last week, after the government suffered its first Parliamentary defeat over the Article 50 bill. Theresa May insisted her plan to trigger Brexit before April “remains unchanged”, despite the House of Lords trying to force the government into guaranteeing the rights of all EU citizens currently living in the UK. The Prime Minister is “confident” the Lords’ amendment will be voted down when the bill returns to the Commons.
Our newspapers and airwaves are dominated not only by Brexit, of course, but also the spoken and tweeted words of Donald Trump. The US President gave his first speech to Congress last week – an address generally seen as more statesmanlike than his previous efforts.
I’m writing this from Rome, where Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi just stepped down as leader of the centre-left Partito Democratico. Italian politics, once again, faces chaos.
Renzi previously resigned as Premier, having lost a botched referendum on constitutional change last December. Once tipped as Italy’s political savior, the 42-year old former Mayor of Florence must now win a renewed leadership battle if he is to restore his political credibility.
“It’s our expectation that rate increases this year will be appropriate,” said Janet Yellen last week. The Federal Reserve boss was signaling that US interest rates will keep going up.
America’s central bank has increased rates only twice in the past 10 years. The last time, though, was as recently as December 2016. If the Fed does raise rates this year too, that would be hugely significant – suggesting the global interest rate cycle has well and truly turned. It would also pose a danger that financial markets could plunge.
“The biggest barrier to social mobility and social progress is our broken housing market,” said Sajid Javid, while launching his long-awaited housing white paper last week. “Fixing it means taking on tough vested interests”. The Communities Secretary is right on both counts. But if this white paper is a genuine guide to future government action, it isn’t up to the job,
Over the last twenty years, amid soaring demand, we’ve built around two and a half million too few homes across the UK. This yawning supply-demand gap has made ownership evermore unaffordable. The average house today costs almost eight times average earnings – an all-time record, the ratio having doubled since 1997.