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Asian Markets at Close Report

European Markets at Close Report

Jan 20, 2017

The Guardian | Opinion | E:U. Referendum and Brexit - First Thoughts Banks are Moving Workers, Inflation is Up. Project Fear is Coming True, by Simon Jenkins

theguardian.com
 
Simon Jenkins
 
The tumult and the shouting dies. From hysterical prediction slowly emerges the grim reality. Now the prospect comes into view that the remainers’ Project Fear might just have been true after all. They just got the timing wrong.

This week two big banks, HSBC and UBS, honoured their threats, that Brexit would mean moving 2,500 banking jobs from London to Paris and Frankfurt. Farmers have warned that without a deal on immigration and trade in food, they face a collapse of half their income. There is a growing catalogue of profit warnings from trade-reliant firms such as Pearson and Premier Foods.

The initial surge in business confidence – perhaps just a surge of relief – must confront reality. This week’s official figures show a slowdown in job creation and a rise in inflation. It is becoming clear that “hard” Brexit will be tough for a substantial sector of the economy. Brexit’s much-vaunted “open door to the world” is going to have to come up with serious cash. Economists who, for whatever reason, promised the worst, may have fallen into the old trap – that a fool can predict rain but only a genius can predict when.
The only forecast anyone got right was of unpredictability. That forecast holds, but there is no going back. It is clear that electorates on both sides of the Atlantic have reached exhaustion with so-called globalisation. Free trade was too disruptive to their lives; economic migration was upheaving their communities. Places that had been rich were suddenly poor, and the new rich did not care. People cried “enough”, and populist politicians rightly heard them.

On Tuesday, Theresa May declined to take what might have been the easy path, to go with the European economic area and with some form of single market. Crudely, she put politics before economics. In the short term she may have been wise thus to roll her pitch. But soon the cries of those with most to lose from a hard Brexit will become more shrill. Not just the bankers but commodity importers, fuel-dependent factories, universities, all for whom free movement of goods and services has been real money. Politics and economics alike will drive the government in an ever “softer” direction.

No one knows if this week’s bad news is a blip or a trend. But it is a corrective. Brexit has costs, and May’s negotiators cannot leave the losers spinning in the wind. This will be really tough. EU leaders have no interest in being nice to Britain. That is not a prediction, it is reality.