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EU Referendum: Economic Situation

Volume 613: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2016

1. What assessment he has made of the (a) extent of and (b) economic effect of assets and capital being moved out of the UK as a result of the outcome of the EU referendum. (905943)

2. What steps he is taking to update the Government's long-term economic plan in response to the outcome of the EU referendum. (905944)

7. What assessment he has made of the near-term effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on economic confidence and growth in the UK. (905950)

While it is clear that the referendum decision represents a shock to the UK economy, thanks to the actions taken over the past six years by my predecessor, the economy is well placed to respond. I will work closely with the Bank of England to provide immediate stability and to maintain confidence in the fundamental health of the UK economy as we prepare for the autumn statement. As further post-referendum economic data are published, the economy’s short-term response to the Brexit decision will become clearer. If further measures are required, they will be announced in the autumn statement.

Given colleagues’ anecdotal evidence of capital flight, the recent vote to leave the EU has plunged the economy into volatility and uncertainty. The Conservative Government have been slow to act and have yet to provide an economic strategy, so will the Chancellor tell the people of the UK when they will get an insight into the scale of capital flight following the Brexit vote?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the shock of the exit vote at the referendum has created short-term turbulence in the UK economy, but we are well placed to manage it. In answer to his question about data, a series of data publications during the late summer and autumn will inform a proper response at the autumn statement.

The Conservative Government’s so-called long-term economic plan has resulted in their failing on key economic indicators and missing the targets that they set for themselves. Will the Chancellor tell the Chamber whether we will witness an end to this disastrous era of austerity?

The UK continues to run a very large fiscal deficit by international standards and we will have to address that deficit. We have already announced that we will no longer seek to bring the budget into balance by 2019-20, but that does not mean that we can go forward without a clear framework for achieving fiscal balance over an appropriate timeframe. We will address that issue in the autumn statement.

I welcome the new Chancellor to his place and wish him all good luck—for all our sakes, he is going to need it. A Deloitte survey of 132 FTSE 350 chief financial officers found that nearly two thirds of them expect revenues to fall. As the Financial Times puts it, business confidence is now lower than at the time of the collapse of Lehman, with 82% of companies expected to reduce capital spending. This crisis has been caused by Brexit. What tangible steps will the Chancellor take to restore confidence? Don’t just give us waffle—give us real plans.

The hon. Gentleman is right; the figures that he quotes are right. The evidence is anecdotal in the early stages, as he would expect. As he would also expect, the initial response to this kind of shock must be a monetary response delivered by the Bank of England. In announcing that interest rates were not to be lowered last week, the Governor made it clear that the Bank is developing a monetary package that will be announced in due course.

The Chancellor’s certainty that the purchase of ARM by SoftBank is good for the UK following the EU referendum is not shared by its founder Hermann Hauser, who said it means that

“determination of what comes next for technology will not be decided in Britain any more, but in Japan”.

Why does the Chancellor think that the company’s founder is wrong?

I suspect that the founder of the company has not had the benefit of discussions with the acquiring company. I have met the leader of the current management team, who are wholeheartedly supporting the purchase by SoftBank. We have achieved some very hard guarantees—these were volunteered without our having to extract them—about the future autonomy of the company, headquartered in the UK, and about its commitment to double the number of UK employees over the next five years. What became very clear from a discussion with the founder and CEO of SoftBank is that it firmly believes Cambridge will be the global centre for developing the internet of things and ARM will play a key role in developing that industry.

I warmly welcome the Chancellor to his new role. It is probably the job he always wanted—unless of course he wants eventually to move next door. I note that to most questions so far he has said he is going to wait until the autumn statement, so I am hoping I get an answer to this one a bit earlier. Sticking to the fiscal surplus rule has rightly been scrapped by the previous Chancellor, and the automatic stabilisers have been allowed to kick in. The higher deficit implied by that decision will have to be plugged sooner or later. From 2010, the Chancellor’s predecessor planned an 80% consolidation of that to come from spending, with only 20% coming from tax. [Interruption.] There is a question coming, if hon. Members can be patient. Does the Chancellor intend to stick to his predecessor’s target of 80:20 or is he going to vary it?

My right hon. Friend will know that the surplus rule always came with the caveat that if the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast four rolling consecutive quarters of less than 1% annualised growth, the target would be suspended. The consensus among pretty much all forecasters is that that is likely to be what they forecast this autumn statement, so my predecessor’s announcement was merely pre-empting something that almost everybody expects to happen. I am afraid to tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) that how we are going to respond over the longer term to the resulting deficit will be set out at the autumn statement.

In the hope that the hon. Gentleman will provide a masterclass in the asking of a question, I call Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. I accept that that is not a question but a statement. May I go on to point out to him that Brexit provides a great opportunity? The £24 billion purchase of ARM by SoftBank is a sign of that. The trade deals that are being offered are a sign of that. Will he grasp this fantastic opportunity and lead us through to the “broad, sunlit uplands”?

My hon. Friend rightly points to the fundamental strengths of the UK economy. Britain is still one of the most attractive places in the world to do business, to start a business and to invest money, and it is right that we should focus on those positive aspects. But it is also right that we are conscious of the short-term turbulence that we will inevitably experience and of the need to manage that carefully over the next 18 months.

I, too, welcome the Chancellor to his place. As has been mentioned, SoftBank has made a huge investment in a fantastic Cambridgeshire business. It has done that because Cambridgeshire is at the forefront of technology and innovation. The company has said, as the Chancellor has mentioned, that it is going to double the workforce. Cambridgeshire can continue to attract investment such as this only if we have the infrastructure to support it, so will he confirm that he will be committed to infrastructure investment in roads such as the A10?

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right; raising the UK’s productivity is the long-term challenge of our economy, and infrastructure investment is one of the ways we do that. I draw attention to another point: the success of Cambridge today, not only as a centre of academic excellence but as an innovation hub of global importance, has arisen because of the very foresighted decision of Cambridge City Council many years ago to allow development around the city and the creation of the Cambridge business park, which is now a world magnet for investment.

I, too, congratulate the Chancellor on his ascension. One of the key flows of capital that is likely to increase post-Brexit is the £300 million or so that is invested every year in gilts by those seeking a UK investor visa. This is of little productive value to the UK economy. I wrote to the previous Treasury team suggesting that this money would be better invested in drug discovery but, amazingly, I got the brush-off. May I impose myself upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask for a meeting to explain the merits of requiring these people to invest in the productive part of the UK economy?

I anticipate that there will be a need to fund UK Government gilt issuance for the foreseeable future, but I understand my hon. Friend’s point and I would be happy to discuss it with him.

Mr Speaker, I am sure you will allow me to extend my congratulations to the Chancellor. He will remember that I welcomed him as a very fresh-faced Back Bencher to the 1997 Budget, when he already showed great promise, which he has more than fulfilled now. Does he agree that the major current threat—there are many—from Brexit is in fact the interruption to investment in British industry and in Britain, and therefore that the purchase by SoftBank of ARM is to be welcomed? In view of the undertakings that ARM has given, that is the best antidote to the prevailing doubts.

The hon. Gentleman is right and I thank him for his kind words. We need to remind ourselves that we are running a 6.9% of GDP external account deficit, and that has to be funded somehow. It has been funded by an extraordinarily successful run of foreign direct investment into the UK—more than into any other country in the European Union. That has slowed as uncertainty around the referendum has been created. We now need to generate the confidence to allow it to resume.

I take this opportunity to welcome the Chancellor to his post, and also the Chief Secretary and other new Treasury Ministers. There is a real concern that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is forcing many businesses and international banks to consider moving their core operations and the jobs that go with them overseas. Banks in particular make use of their EU banking passport arrangements to operate within the UK, so what measures will the Chancellor be taking to avoid the loss of those arrangements?

The hon. Lady is right to say that passporting is an important feature of the arrangements we have with the European Union. In the negotiations that we will have in the future with the European Union about Britain’s future relationship with it, protecting those rights for our very important financial services sector, which I should emphasise is not just about London—two thirds of financial services jobs in this country are outside London—will be a very important part of those negotiations.

Moving back to the issue of ARM, analysts this week have predicted a raft of foreign takeovers linked to the fall in the value of the pound following Brexit. The Chancellor stated this week that Britain is open to foreign investment, barely a week after the Prime Minister wanted to oppose such takeovers, so has the Government’s approach to securing new investment been reduced in the space of a week from an ambiguous industrial policy to merely slashing corporation tax and hoping for the best?

No. The UK remains very much open to foreign investment, but we are very clear that we want investors who will invest in British technology, British jobs and businesses headquartered, based and directed from the UK. We are not open to asset-strippers.