Pre-Budget 2017: No Direction Home

Another Budget: another opportunity to criticise government. Inevitably some will pay more to, or get less from, government. The Press have predetermined that this is a “make or break” Budget for Mr Hammond who must try to fit a large square peg into an impossibly small, round hole. 

He has to meet the popular expectation of entitlement and an even stronger belief that someone else should pick up the tab. Yet, this same population has also set a course into unchartered waters known as Brexit. Continue reading “Pre-Budget 2017: No Direction Home”

Out of the jaws of victory she snatched defeat

There can be little doubt that we have just witnessed a historically bad performance by the incumbent government, not quite a defeat for Mrs May, but a resounding discord from the people of the UK, for the second time in a year telling politicians that they cannot take for granted the views of the people.

I have heard it said that it was a choice between austerity and less state intervention on the one hand juxtaposed with big state and big spending on the other. I doubt it is that simple.  Mrs May is, as I write, off to the Palace to propose her new government, but we should not think for a second that her policy is one of shrinking government.  That is not an option for any government anymore, and with such a marginal position, we face a period of mediocrity in terms of government policy. That is what we voted for and what we will get. Continue reading “Out of the jaws of victory she snatched defeat”

Brexit: Follow-Up Survey – Please Help Us to Help You

 Here we are, at the end of March and the exercise of Article 50 is imminent. In fact, today the British Government announced it will issue its letter to the EU on 29th March. So now we have given notice that we are going to give notice. Maybe we should have had a bit more notice?

In June last year my firm carried out a survey of our clients to see what the business community made of the Referendum result.  Later in the summer, we carried out a more in-depth survey for our professional association, UK200Group, which resulted in our better understanding the way a wide range of business people were thinking. Now, as we approach the day of reckoning, (or the start of the reckoning in which we reckon we might some day do something) we would like you to help us find out more.

You can have a look at our previous reports, of course, on HHeLLP:

Our new survey has been shortened and focused by the comments we received in the earlier surveys, and made a little more light-hearted in some areas.  We would love to hear what you have to say, so please add your input to our Article 50 Survey, prepared for UK200Group.  We have two versions:

Thank you for helping us, and we hope the result will be that we can help you better navigate your business through the murky Article 50 waters. Or, as Monty Python once suggested, to sail the accountant-sea.

 

UKOverseas

 

 

Thank you for participating. You will be able to see our report in May, when the survey has closed, immediately following the UK200Group Brexit Forum where its result will be presented.

 

Brexit White Paper: Just a Spring Clean for the May Queen?

The_European_Parliament.jpg

Today, 2nd February, the government released its White Paper, following the Article 50 triggering Bill passing through the House of Commons. It is called “The United Kingdom’s exit from and the new partnership with the European Union”. I am sure there will be a suitable acronym in due course.

Press and pundits eagerly awaited the document which, in 76 pages including smiling photographs said, what Mrs May has always said, and little more: Brexit means Brexit. I read it, being a sad man who is interested in these sorts of things, and found it to be a helpful summary of the issues that will need to be addressed, with little to say how they will be addressed or why anyone should play ball with us, except that we are really good for everyone else so why would you not let us have our cake and eat it?

It does list 12 principles for the negotiation, most of which represent a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. For example, the concluding principle is “Delivering a smooth, orderly exit from the EU”; you will be shocked to hear that the government was not seeking utter chaos.

The Paper effectively tells us that the government intends to ensure that on the day we leave the EU, everything will be exactly as it is now, and then the government will pick off the bits it does not like. It reminded me of the sculptor who said he takes a piece of stone and chips away all the bits that don’t look like the subject of his art. It is a fine idea but I cannot truly imagine the EU letting us walk out the door with the only agreed change being that we can change what we like.

The paper states clearly that the government will be transparent, on the one hand, while, on the other, necessarily play its cards close to its chest. It has certainly done so in the Paper. I don’t necessarily say it is a bad thing either, but 76 pages full of words that tell us that the government will negotiate the best deal it can? Hardly a worthwhile exercise.

We can applaud the government’s intentions, but, as an adviser to businesses, I focused on sections 7 and 8. The first of these, concerning workers’ rights, merely said that ours are higher than the EU’s anyway, so there is nothing to consider. They even slipped in a reminder that they want worker representation on Boards for listed companies.

Section 8 is informative. It presents an interesting impact summary across many industrial sectors, but was merely a statement of how great the UK is.  It is true that the UK is very strong, but that gives us far more to lose than the EU. The paper even points out that we have implemented or over-implemented every Directive and Regulation from the EU, making us perfect trading partners.

If ever there has been a document which stretched the boundaries of saying nothing in as many words as possible, it was this.  The 12 Principles are aspirations, Utopian stairways to heaven perhaps, and that is great, and the detail behind the 12 Principles is little more than advertising puff.  It is intended to make us feel better and to explain why we ought to be able to negotiate a good deal.

The Paper – if its facts are correct – should make a negotiator feel strong. But it does not suggest how the team might deal with irrational intransigence arising from a desire to give us a good kicking as punishment for leaving the club.  The EU Project is one of faith. What the UK has done is to potentially damage the EU, and there are those in the EU who want revenge and do not care about the price.

Every statement in the Paper is one that says the UK will try to do a deal which is good for everyone.  Each statement, a bit like Mrs May’s speech to the Republicans, was carefully balanced with opposites so that in the end it meant nothing: The USA has a right to protect its borders, but it must allow immigration; The world must not rely on trade with China, but should definitely trade with China, and so on.

I do hope our negotiators are successful and I wish them luck. I don’t think this Paper will help much.

“Our wills and fates do so contrary run…

London Skyline

“… that our devices still are overthrown.
Our thoughts are ours, their end none of our own.” (W Shakespeare, Hamlet)

Similarly, the Romans said: “men make plans and the gods laugh”, and nowadays folk say “random, yeah?”.  What we know is that things never turn out as we expect.

Who would have thought that within a few little weeks, we would have voted to leave the EU, seen markets panic and re-stabilise, seen a Prime Minister resign and a new one take his place, our second female Prime Minister,  seen Boris Johnson in the political wilderness only to emerge within a fortnight as the new Foreign Secretary, see England knocked out of Euro 2016 and Portugal the winner, and Andy Murray winning Wimbledon again?  Well, one of those events was fairly predictable.  

Continue reading ““Our wills and fates do so contrary run…”

Survey: Has the Brexit Vote Affected You?

UPDATE: The survey below has now closed.  We are really grateful to those who took part and we will be conducting further research in due course.  Please do check back to take part in future surveys.  Our report is available here.

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First there was a vote.  A little more than a week later, we have no political authority in the country and Her Majesty must be thinking something like, “Well that’s a great 90th birthday present guys – I really could do without having to wade in and take control at my time of life” (I am sure the Royal thoughts are more eloquently put).  Apart from Parliament self-destructing, vast numbers of petition signing people threatening to hold their breath till they turn blue, and the leaders of the European Countries getting severe indigestion and threatening handbags at dawn, nothing has actually happened yet. Surely it is not news that half the UK doesn’t like being in the EU, and half does?

Never the less, based on this startling revelation, the banks have downgraded the UK’s credit, Sterling has sunk and rumours abound about the next knee jerk.  In the meantime, Mr Osborne may be thinking of making the UK a corporate tax haven, something we would all welcome?  Some question how on earth government can allow a fractional majority of the votes cast and less than 50% of the voting population to force a change as momentous as our removal from the EU. This is the same government, I think, that has said that, to go on strike in a key industry, a union should have a 60% majority?

We have now heard anecdotally that some overseas businesses are reviewing or deferring decisions to invest in the UK, while others say it is business as usual, and some report increases in sales.  With all the confusion, we would like to find some clarity.  Please would you tell us a little about your experience, and how the EU Referendum is or may be affecting you, by answering a few questions on our survey page?  The survey is open to anyone, but it can only be completed once by each person.  At the end of the survey, you can optionally leave your details and we will use them to contact you with any interesting results.

It takes about three or four minutes to complete.
Continue reading “Survey: Has the Brexit Vote Affected You?”