2 years on, Brexit vote has taken a toll on UK economy

No one knows what will happen once Brexit takes effect in 2019 (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 June 2018
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2 years on, Brexit vote has taken a toll on UK economy

  • Big companies are sounding the alarm bell, with plane making giant Airbus this week threatening to pull out of the country, where it employs 14,000, if it gets no clarity on future trade deals
  • The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, estimated recently that average household incomes are around 900 pounds lower than the bank was forecasting on the eve of the referendum

LONDON: While it’s still unclear what Brexit will look like when it happens next year, the decision to leave has already had a clear effect on the economy: households are poorer, companies are more cautious about investing, and the property market has cooled.
In the two years since the vote to leave the European Union, Britain has gone from being a pace-setter among the world’s big economies to falling into the slow lane. And the uncertainty over what relations with the EU will be when Brexit becomes official on March 29, 2019 could make matters worse.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government remains split on what those relations should be. There are those who favor a “hard Brexit,” a clean break that takes Britain out of the bloc’s free trade union but also gives it more freedom to strike new trade deals around the world. Others want to keep Britain as close as possible to the EU, Britain’s biggest trading partner, which could mean it has to obey more of the bloc’s rules.
Big companies are sounding the alarm bell, with plane making giant Airbus this week threatening to pull out of the country, where it employs 14,000, if it gets no clarity on future trade deals.
“Thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs are now on the line because of the shambolic mess the government have created over the Brexit negotiations,” said Darren Jones, the lawmaker for the community where Airbus has its plant.
Before the referendum of June 2016, the British economy had been one of the fastest-growing industrial economies for years. Now, it’s barely growing. In the first quarter of this year it expanded by just 0.1 percent from the previous three-month period, its slowest rate in about five years.
For most people, the first and most noticeable impact was the drop in the pound. The currency slid 15 percent after the vote in June 2016 to a post-1985 low of $1.21. That boosted prices by making imports and energy more expensive for consumers and companies — the rate of inflation hit a high of 3 percent late last year.
The weaker pound helped some companies: exporters and multinationals that do not sell mainly in the UK But it hurt consumer spending and businesses that depend on their shopping. The retail industry was hit hard, with high-profile companies like Toys R Us and Maplin going bust, and supermarket chain Marks and Spencer planning deep cuts.
While prices rose, wages lagged, even though unemployment is at its lowest since 1975, at 4.2 percent.
“After Brexit, prices definitely went up,” said Nagesh Balusu, manager of the Salt Whisky Bar and Dining Room in London. “We struggled a bit earlier this year, so now we’ve increased the prices.” The bar is next to Hyde Park, a popular destination for foreign visitors. “The tourists have a good exchange rate. They know they can spend a little bit more than they usually do. But the locals are coming a little less. They are starting to think about how much they spend.”
The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, estimated recently that average household incomes are around 900 pounds lower than the bank was forecasting on the eve of the referendum.
The real estate market, meanwhile, has cooled considerably, with the number of property sales in London near a historic low last year, according to estate agent Foxtons.
While some foreign prospective buyers were attracted by the drop in the pound, others seem to have been scared off by uncertainty over what Brexit might mean for their investment.
House prices are stagnating after years of gains, also due to expectations that the Bank of England will keep gradually increasing interest rates.
Nic Budden, Foxton’s CEO, predicts that the real estate market will remain challenging this year, while Samuel Tombs, analyst at Pantheon Economics, predicts that house prices will flatline for the next 6 months.
Against the backdrop of uncertainty, businesses have become more reluctant to invest in big projects. Because Brexit could lead to tariffs on EU imports of British goods, companies are hesitant to spend big on British plants and office space before they know what the new rules will be.
Benoit Rochet, the deputy chief of the port of Calais, the French town across the Channel from Britain, complained to a parliamentary committee this month that “we know there is Brexit but we don’t know exactly what Brexit means.”
“You are not alone,” responded the Conservative chair of the committee, Nicky Morgan.


US courts allies with free trade offers at G20, France resists

Updated 22 July 2018
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US courts allies with free trade offers at G20, France resists

BUENOS AIRES: The US sought to woo Europe and Japan with free trade deals on Saturday to gain leverage in an escalating tariff war with China but its overtures faced stiff resistance from France at a G20 finance ministers meeting dominated by trade tensions.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the gathering of the financial leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies in Buenos Aires that he was renewing President Donald Trump’s proposal that G7 allies drop trade barriers between them.
“If Europe believes in free trade, we’re ready to sign a free trade agreement,” Mnuchin said, adding that such a deal would require the elimination of tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies. “It has to be all three issues.”
Trump has angered European allies by imposing import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, causing the European Union to retaliate with similar amounts of tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Kentucky bourbon and other products.
Trump, who frequently criticizes Europe’s 10 percent car tariffs, is also studying adding a 25 percent levy on automotive imports, which would hit both Europe and Japan hard.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the European Union would not consider launching trade talks with the United States unless Trump first withdraws the steel and aluminum tariffs and stands down on a car tariff threat.
“We refuse to negotiate with a gun to our head,” Le Maire told reporters on the sidelines of the G20 meeting.
Trump has angered European allies by imposing import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, causing the European Union to retaliate with similar amounts of tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Kentucky bourbon and other products.
Trump, who frequently criticizes Europe’s 10 percent car tariffs, is also studying adding a 25 percent levy on automotive imports, which would hit both Europe and Japan hard.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the European Union would not consider launching trade talks with the United States unless Trump first withdraws the steel and aluminum tariffs and stands down on a car tariff threat.
“We refuse to negotiate with a gun to our head,” Le Maire told reporters on the sidelines of the G20 meeting.
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde presented the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Buenos Aires with a report warning that existing trade restrictions would reduce global output by 0.5 percent.
In the briefing note prepared for G20 ministers, the IMF said global economic growth may peak at 3.9 percent in 2018 and 2019, while downside risks have increased due to the growing trade conflict.
Lagarde’s presentation came shortly after Mnuchin said there was no “macro” effect yet on the US economy.
Mnuchin said that, while there were some “micro” effects such as retaliation against US-produced soybeans, lobsters and bourbon, he did not believe that tariffs would keep the United States from achieving sustained 3 percent growth this year.
The US dollar fell the most in three weeks on Friday against a basket of six major currencies .DXY after Trump complained again about the greenback’s strength and about Federal Reserve interest rate rises, halting a rally that had driven the dollar to its highest in a year.
The last G20 finance meeting in Buenos Aires in late March ended with no firm agreement by ministers on trade policy except for a commitment to “further dialogue.”
Brazilian Finance Minister Eduardo Guardia said participants agreed the risks to the global economy had increased since their last meeting, citing rising trade tensions and higher interest rates by major central banks.
He said the final communique would reflect the need for members, particularly in emerging markets that have been roiled by currency weakness, to undertake reforms to protect themselves against volatility.
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said he would use the meeting to advocate for a rules-based trading system, but that expectations were low.
“I don’t expect tangible progress to be made at this meeting,” Scholz told reporters on the plane to Buenos Aires.
The US tariffs will cost Germany up to 20 billion euros ($23.44 billion) in income this year, according to the head of German think-tank IMK.
Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said he hoped the debate at the G20 gathering would lead to an easing of retaliatory trade measures.
“Trade protectionism benefits no one involved,” he said. “I think restraint will eventually take hold.”