Finest of Margins
It is striking how apparently minor, irrelevant events can have a disproportionate effect and influence on all of our lives. The man in the picture above Boris is Anthony Weiner, until 2011 Congressman for the 9th District of New York, and until recently husband of Huma Abedin (also pictured), chief of staff on Hilary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign. He has a fine record defending the democratic rights of his constituents in Brooklyn, but has a fatal flaw – he likes to send saucy texts and photos to people who don’t really want to receive them – including, appallingly, a 15 year-old girl. As a result of this hobby, Weiner was, on 25th September, sentenced to 21 months in prison, starting next month.
His text thumb is the reason Hilary lost the Presidential election and that the world faces Donald Trump in the White House. Trump himself did not think he would win – indeed, he may not even have wanted to win, but Weiner put him there. On 21st September 2016 the Daily Mail (they had to be involved) printed an article about the minor and Wiener. The FBI seized Weiner’s laptop during their subsequent investigation: on the laptop the FBI found a number of confidential emails from Hilary and Huma which caused FBI Director James Comey (correctly) to reopen his investigation into Hilary’s treatment of classified government information and use of a private email server. When the US went to the polls on 8th November, that was foremost in voters minds, not Trump’s manifold horrors and untruths. Awful though he was, he made no attempt to hide who or what he was. Hilary, on the other hand……….The world thanks you, Anthony.
Which brings us to Boris. Who knows what little quirk of fate lumbered us with him and caused the Leave victory in the European referendum last June. David Cameron, George Osborne and the EU itself must all take large deliveries of blame. Austerity too, and the general unsavoury and talent-free nature of the current political class – a large number of voters chose to give the latter the finger, as they were to in the US later in the year.
This puts the United Kingdom into a state of division and panic, apparently. Journalists thrive on this kind of political disintegration; the Prime Minister made it a lot worse by calling and then winning by a feather her snap general election. Self-important and frankly hopeless backbenchers and fringe politicians now think they have great power, and nihilism rules. We are all going to hell in a hand cart, apparently, exiled from Europe, snubbed by the rest of the world, and the cost of a plumber is going to roof it when we deport all the Poles.
In the long term, leaving the European Union is the right decision. It is an undemocratic, bureaucratic money-consumer that will only succeed if there is full monetary and political union. We cannot entertain that, so we are better to leave now and build our trade with the rest of the world. London is a world city, not a European capital, and there are greater opportunities in thegreater world than there are in the EU. Economic growth is to be found in the US, China and India. That is where we should be travelling and trading. The City of London made its reputation trading with the world, and it still excels in world markets such as Foreign Exchange.
In the short term, leaving the EU will cause some dislocation and economic changes. This is where we need to hold our nerve and stop the national funk in which we seem to be indulging. All the scare stories about leaving have focussed on small issues or on scare stories generated by those who have a vested interest in reversing the exit decision. Farms, coffee shops and “casual” restaurants will be forced to stop relying on cheap immigrant labour. They may be forced to pay a living wage. Goldman Sachs threatens to move its operations to Frankfurt. I helped move a trading operation to Dusseldorf in 2008, and I wish them the very best of luck in Frankfurt. Not many of the people I moved in 2008 now live in Germany, and the whole move was a disaster for that company. The Common Agricultural Policy is the invention of madmen, only possible in an political system which has unelected commissioners and no democratic institution to speak of. Our withdrawal from it is a huge opportunity for our agricultural industry to stop being a branch of the civil service and to thrive. Our fishing industry will thrive. The City will thrive – it always does in time of great upheaval, as it is full of the brightest and the sharpest who know where to go and what to do to find gold.
The behaviour of the EU in the negotiations over our exit tells us we were absolutely right to decide to go. It is in the interest or every citizen of the EU that the latter maintains its trading terms with the UK. The UK is a net importer from the EU. The UK has a £60bn trade deficit with the EU. Last year Germany sold is 900,000 cars. Angela Merkel should be protecting her workers by making sure a deal is done quickly. Ireland’s economy is heavily dependent on trade with the UK – hence its panic over its land border with Great Britain. If the EU asked its citizens what they wanted, most would say a trade deal and let’s move on. Instead, we have a refusal by the EU to discuss trade until they have extracted their pound of flesh as punishment for our departure, and the likelihood of an exit on WTO rules grows more likely by the day. We will be hurt by this, but so will the people of the EU. But is unelected leaders don’t care about that – they care only about the “project”. The biggest threat to the Euro and the EU is Germany’s massive trade surplus with the rest of Europe, but they care not to tackle that.
The UK needs to hold its nerve, trust its position and get the best deal it can. There is no need to panic; we need to offer the EU a departure payment that satisfies the EU’s vanity and hurt at thedivorce. The sum being demanded is about the same as the cost of HS2. Pay it, get the trade deal done. Then we can move on to the sunlit uplands. The EU will still be there, not much will change. We will be free of the ECJ.
This crisis has exposed the low grade of two sectors of our economy: politicians and the journalists who cover them. I hear journalists who should know better repeating the nonsense that “business needs certainty”. Indeed. If I had the certainly that the oil price would be higher tomorrow, I would be a wonderful trader. The fact is there is no certainty. The most successful businesses are the ones which thrive on change and disruption. Was Google “certain” that we would all be using the internet on our phones? Brexit will throw up huge opportunities for business – the uncertainty will provide the brave with rewards if they act upon their instincts. The ones that sit moaning that their businesses don’t work now that cheap Romanians are no longer available deserve to fail. We have faced greater threats than the wrath and stupidity of the EU in our history.