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William Keegan on business
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    We are fond of remembering our role as wartime liberators. But now it is we who need help, in the form of an offer to protect us from our folly

    ‘A visitor from Mars would assume that the UK is under attack from a hostile power seeking to destroy our economy and many of our national institutions … But there is no hostile foreign power. The threatened damage is entirely self-inflicted.”

    This forceful reflection on the state of the nation comes from Sir Brian Unwin, former president of the European Investment Bank, one of the many EU institutions from whose work the British economy has benefited through our membership.

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    Labour has a golden opportunity to capitalise on the strong pro-European feelings of the young

    When I referred in my last column to Chancellor Philip Hammond as the only grown-up minister in this chaotic cabinet, I was unaware that he had just put his name to a joint article in the pro-Brexit Sunday Telegraph with his arch-foe Liam Fox, making the following statement: “We respect the will of the British people – in March 2019 the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. We will leave the customs union… we will leave the single market… ”

    True, this was followed by reports that he wanted, in effect, to retain quasi-membership for several years, but the two emphasised that such a precaution “cannot be a back door to staying in the EU”. There were also reports that Hammond had in some mysterious way scored a victory, which contrasted vividly with other reports that his attempt at some kind of coup had been foiled.

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    Michel Barnier did not say we needed to be taught a lesson. We are not being blackmailed or fined. We are simply unwilling to accept our obligations

    ‘Sometimes you get the impression that the British are talking to themselves,” said the outgoing French ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, on the Today programme last week.

    There have been suggestions that the French are rubbing their hands and doing their best to lure as much business as they can from the City of London to Paris.

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    This autumn marks the anniversaries of two notable economic humiliations. But they are as nothing to what might happen if we leave the EU

    This is quite an anniversary year for great British economic disasters. Last weekend saw the 25th anniversary of the ignominious exit of the pound from the European exchange rate mechanism – “the first Brexit”, and, I still hope, the only one.

    Then this November will see the 50th anniversary of the dramatic 14% devaluation of the pound – an episode from which the Labour government of Harold Wilson never quite recovered, not least because Wilson made the mistake of proclaiming that “the pound in your pocket has not been devalued” – based on a brief by Treasury officials which was aimed at explaining that, from the point of view of the pocket or purse, it was only the price of imports that were going up, and spending on imports was only a small fraction of total household spending.

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    It’s had control of monetary policy for 20 years but, if the government persists with leaving the EU, governor Mark Carney only has the power to limit the inevitable damage this will do to our economy

    In common with Sir John Major, Denis Healey, the Bank of England’s historian David Kynaston, and former governor (1983-93) Robin Leigh-Pemberton, I had great reservations about the granting of independence to the Bank.

    By independence – more precisely “operational independence” – was meant control of monetary policy: giving the Bank the power to change interest rates, as opposed to merely offering advice to chancellors and prime ministers that could be ignored.

    Related: Is the Bank of England losing its way?

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    As chancellor, his enemy was rising prices – which is precisely what has followed the vote to leave the EU

    A few years ago I shared a platform with my old friend Lord Lawson at a conference on our membership of the European Union. This was some time before the infamous referendum. The event was good-tempered, and it will come as no surprise to readers that Lawson was, in a term yet to be coined, a “Leaver”, and your correspondent was not.

    What surprised me over subsequent coffee and drinks was the number of successful, and obviously intelligent, people in the audience who thanked Lawson and me for having covered the history of the EU. It turned out some of the audience had only the vaguest idea why, to use the original title, the European Economic Community was set up in the first place.

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    Ten years of austerity has put the UK in the doldrums: that fact, coupled with the referendum, means there is scarcely a need to dampen things down further

    You can look at it two ways. After ten years of inertia, Bank rate has doubled. Or: after 10 years of inertia, Bank rate has been raised by one quarter of one per cent, to half of one per cent. Big deal!

    Of course, for most businesses and individuals, the official rate is meaningless. It is the rate to which everything else is geared, but everything else is usually a lot higher than 0.25% or 0.5%. We read reports daily of how so many desperate borrowers find themselves struggling to pay the usurious interest rates associated with credit card debt.

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    Past generations of British politicians proved equal to the crises that faced them. This time, there is a strong whiff of panic in the corridors of power

    To say that the lunatics have taken over the asylum would doubtless be termed politically incorrect. But the uncomfortable truth is that a bunch of ideological Brexit clowns have perpetrated a coup on the British government and the majority of the British people.

    Seldom – or, to be more precise, never – in half a century of covering British economics have I encountered such a failure of leadership at a time of crisis. We came close to the abyss in 1976 but were saved by Jim Callaghan, the prime minister, and Denis Healey, the chancellor. On that occasion, after fraught talks, the two held the cabinet together and negotiated a loan from the International Monetary Fund which restored our credibility in the markets.

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    Those who seek a hard exit from the EU do so in defiance of old allies in Europe and beyond, and of long-held principles of UK foreign policy

    Philip Hammond’s recent budget – are you old enough to remember it? – was completely overshadowed by the gloomy analysis of our economy, present and future, presented by the Office for Budget Responsibility on the same day.

    Politically, the chancellor was constrained by the knowledge that the minority of deranged Brexiters who seem to be running this government were out for his blood. However, he managed, with limited room for manoeuvre, to ward off the hyenas for the time being. Why, the prime minister – who had earlier contemplated sacking him – even turned up for the Treasury’s post-budget drinks.

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    As some hard economic truths become clear, the many ideologically uncommitted Britons who chose to leave may start changing their minds

    My football team, AFC Wimbledon, may be languishing down in the third division, as it was once called, but the Conservative MP for Wimbledon, Stephen Hammond, showed himself to be in the Premier League last week.

    In that refreshing, surprising vote on Thursday, he and his fellow Tory rebels stood up to be counted in the cause of parliamentary democracy. By voting against Theresa May’s plan to prevent parliament from having the last say on whether the terms of any Brexit deal should be accepted, they joined the noble ranks of “mutineers” and “enemies of the people”.

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    The powerful forces driving the current nationalist upheaval also present the prospect of a future only previously imagined by Huxley or Orwell

    Most readers will be familiar with Aldous Huxley’s vision of a dystopian future, Brave New World. Indeed, my contemporaries and I often find ourselves observing that this or that latest invention could have come straight out of Huxley’s nightmare vision.

    Given the reaction against the ill-effects of globalisation by those who have been left behind– but not left out of electoral and referendum polling booths – it was a clever idea of the British economist Stephen D King to produce a book earlier this year entitled Grave New World.

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    The young people of Britain are threatened not just by leaving the EU, but by the accumulation of problems created by neglect of public services

    One of the many annoying aspects of the Brexit referendum fiasco is that it has diverted attention from so many pressing domestic economic and social problems.

    Yet those of us who are unrepentant Remainers still regard the struggle as worthwhile. Brexiters may argue that the prospect of short-term economic damage was exaggerated during the campaign, and, as I acknowledged in a recent column, it was. But that this is a case of “so far, not so bad” is beside the point. The damage will hit us if we go ahead with leaving our largest market and indulge the extreme Brexiters’ fantasy of contriving wonderful new markets in far less important countries from the trading point of view – markets, that, strangely enough, already exist.

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    Out of Schengen, out of the euro, with a budget rebate and still at the top table: we are already ‘having our cake and eating it’

    The ghost at the feast during the annual Venice seminar held by the Italian government for British and Italian journalists last weekend was the shadow of Brexit. While Italian officials were scrupulously reticent about voicing opinions on the subject, the undercurrents were obvious – not least because the Italians value the UK as an “outward-looking” ally in some of the more introspective discussions in Brussels.

    Reports from Davos, too, show bafflement on the part of fellow Europeans and others about the UK referendum and subsequent debate.

    The ultimate irony is that, as members of the EU, we have been able to cherry-pick all sorts of concessions

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    A glance at Britain’s history with Europe reveals that, then as now, we are worse off outside a union than we are inside it

    When I was a schoolboy it was common practice to go to the cinema (or “the pictures”, as we used to say) and arrive well after the start of a double bill. We would then stay until the action in the first film had reached the point where we had come in.

    As this country becomes the laughing stock of the world in regard to the so-called “negotiations” about Brexit, we find that, hey presto, this is where we came in.

    In our 45 years of membership, we have built up tens of thousands of links that it is absurd to try to remove

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    The prospective damage to the health service from leaving the EU is severe. How can the party of Attlee contemplate it?

    Many years ago, I was outside the studio of the BBC’s Today programme waiting my turn to be interviewed about the latest sterling crisis. Alongside me were two gentlemen of a certain age who were keeping themselves to themselves and looked as though they would not hurt a fly. When my turn came, I said to the studio assistant: “As a matter of interest, who were those two gentlemen outside?” “Oh, them? They are the Militant Tendency.”

    For younger readers, the Militant Tendency were an extreme leftwing group who came very close to capturing the Labour party. Not all of them were as harmless-looking as those two, and it is to the eternal credit of Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley that they fought them off.

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    Trump imposes tariffs. The EU uses its scale to threaten a major response. Where will an isolated UK be when the giants clash?

    For me, one of the great tests of a play, film or opera is that it should be so absorbing that one’s mind switches off from day-to-day, mundane concerns.

    The Churchill film Darkest Hour is an exception that proves the rule. How could one possibly not reflect on the present failure of British leadership as we are reminded of the way Churchill rose to the occasion in the face of powerful opposition?

    Terrible things are going on in the world at present. Brexit has not yet happened

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    Theresa May’s ‘transition’ deal is no cause for optimism amid this growing sense of farce

    Did I hear aright? Is the new, or rather “retro”, post-Brexit, true-blue British passport going to be manufactured in France? What a wonderful symbol of the futility and duplicity of the Brexiters’ promise to “take back control”!

    And what is this dire threat from the ubiquitous Jacob Rees-Mogg that the UK risks becoming a “joke nation” by giving in on so many fronts to Michel Barnier?

    Unless something turns up, this could well amount to a mere postponement of disaster

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    A lesson for Brexit: the postwar Labour government was elected, re-elected and humiliated in the space of six years. Each time, the people ‘spoke’

    On 5 July 1945, the British people “spoke”. Churchill had been a great war leader, but memories of the unemployment and penury of the interwar years were strong. Labour was elected by a resounding majority. On 23 February 1950, the Attlee government went to the country, and, again, the people “spoke”. The government was re-elected.

    Although that immediate postwar Attlee government has been almost sanctified by modern historians, things were rough for it most of the time. The largely Conservative press attacked many of the social reforms that were subsequently accepted by the Tory party.

    How long will it be before the government – and the Labour party – realise that our EU partners mean what they say?

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    The inspiration the bard drew from the continent emphasises, whatever Brexiters might say, the inseparability of our history

    We know that the Brexiters want to recapture a lost Britain; and few Britons can rival William Shakespeare in the patriotism stakes.

    It intrigued me, therefore, to hear the following from a Shakespearean scholar who recently delivered a Bardic talk in – where else? – Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford-upon-Avon is as near to Middle England as any Brexiter could wish.

    There is much talk of 'globalisation', but the key economic development of the British economy has been Europeanisation

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    Those who say questioning the referendum would cause disruption should consider the chaos caused to everyday life by a cliff-edge departure

    Five of the managers of the top six teams in the Premier League as I write are continental Europeans. I don’t know about the managers of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United or Arsenal, but Jürgen Klopp, hero of Liverpool, has said loud and clear that he cannot understand why this country should be heading for the Brexit cliff.

    For the terrible prospect now, as the so called “negotiations” with our European partners proceed nowhere slowly, is that unless someone exercises serious leadership soon, there is quite possibly going to be an almighty political and social crisis.

    The geopolitical case for not disrupting Europe at any time – and certainly not at a time like this – is overwhelming

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