It is hard to express just how shocked the business community was when Liam Fox described business leaders as fat, lazy golf obsessives. I've no idea how hard the Trade Secretary works, but I can tell him that business leaders I know don't have much energy or time left after a day in the office to practice their swing. Indeed, many of them consider that their main handicap is the threat by Liam Fox and his Conservative colleagues to pull us out of our most lucrative free trading area, the single market.
The majority of business leaders believe that the one thing that is essential to the British economy is that we retain access to the single market and that passporting for financial services companies is preserved. A number of leading politicians, including David Davis and Jeremy Corbyn, have expressed the view over the last few days that leaving the single market would not be a major problem. They are simply wrong.
Sadly, Theresa May seems to be intent on ignoring the Remain voters. Jeremy Corbyn made only a half-hearted attempt to support the Remain campaign and is clearly ambivalent about Europe. So for those who are looking for some leadership and for our views to be heard, who can we turn to amongst politicians? The obvious person is Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, which is a party that has always been committed to close co-operation with our European neighbours and the only party that is totally committed to trying to convince the 52% that voted for Brexit that this is not the best course of action for our country.
So why are those who are calling for us to leave the single market wrong? The car industry is a gleaming example of why access needs to be retained. Following the sharp decline that Britain's manufacturing sector suffered in the 1970s and 1980s, the car industry was facing possible extinction. The Mrs. Thatcher's Conservative government, seeing that there was a lack of capital available domestically to revive the industry, looked abroad and lured foreign companies here with promises of reductions in corporation tax and lenient labour laws. This strategy worked and Nissan, Honda, Toyota, Tata, BMW, General Motors and Ford have all made major investments in the UK over the last three decades. As a result, we now make 1.6million cars and commercial vehicles in the UK each year, 70% of which are exported. Half of these exports go to the EU. The multi-national car manufacturers see the UK as being their entry point to the single market and, if they can no longer gain access from the UK, they will consider moving production to the EU.
I was talking about Brexit on the Today Programme on Radio 4 a few days ago and the Japanese ambassador was there. He reinforced the message that was delivered to Theresa May in Hangzhou at the G20 summit - Japanese companies will have to consider moving out the UK if we leave the single market. President Obama made it clear that the priority for the US was to continue to negotiate a trade deal with the EU and that the UK was at the back of the queue. The insistence of Theresa May and others that we will be able to put in place trade deals quickly is naïve. Even Australia is now saying that they cannot start trade negotiations with us until we have actually left the EU.
Much has been made by commentators about the strength of the UK economy since the vote on 23 June and many have taken this as evidence that the economic forecasters and prominent Remain commentators were scaremongering with their predictions of the impact that a vote to leave would have. However, we must remember that the Bank of England was quick to take action when sterling and the financial markets plummeted in the aftermath of the announcement of the result. Interest rates were reduced to 0.25%, the Governor of the Bank promised that sterling would receive support and he announced that there would be more quantitative easing. The lesson of the last few years is that quantitative easing is good for markets and asset prices then rise. So it is no surprise that the stock market rebounded and sterling stabilized. I was at a property conference yesterday and the experts were confidently predicting that commercial property in the UK would continue to increase in value with quantitative easing being cited as the principal reason.
But we should not kid ourselves that the positive economic data will continue. The uncertainty surrounding what Brexit actually means is likely to make major companies circumspect about investing in the UK. The fall of sterling will eventually feed through to consumer prices, given how much we import in this country, and that will dampen demand. I am an eternal optimistic and I always look for the upside, but I am very concerned that the prolonged period of uncertainty that we now face will dampen economic activity and that will affect our prosperity as unemployment begins to rise. We had finally begun to see some real growth in wages before the referendum, but as inflation rises, this will dissipate, hitting consumer spending further.
Those who voted to Remain have found it difficult to get their voices heard since 23 June. Every time I dare to put my head about the parapet, I am subjected to a barrage of abuse on Twitter. "You don't have any respect for democracy. The people have spoken and you are just a bad loser!" That is the unwavering message that I get from the Brexit crowd. But 48% of those who voted cannot and should not be ignored.
The Liberal Democrats are dismissed by many as having had their chance and then blown it. Commentators seem to be more interested in the views of the SNP these days and fail to see that our archaic electoral system allowed a party with one million votes less than the Liberal Democrats to get 48 more seats. Liberal Democrats are seldom represented these days on the major political programmes such as Question Time and Newsnight and so it is no surprise that so many people are unaware that Tim Farron is their leader. For those who want us to remain in Europe and, at the very least, to remain in the single market, the Liberal Democrats are the obvious choice. The party has seen a huge resurgence in its fortunes at local level since June, winning a number of by-elections, and membership of the party has also increased dramatically. Broadcasters, newspapers and other news outlets need to take note of this and give the party the coverage it deserves.
Shortly after the vote, a petition was launched calling for a second referendum. I signed it, as did virtually everyone I know. There were spontaneous demonstrations outside parliament with people waving Remain posters. But now the passion to try and influence the final decision seems to have waned, possibly in part due to the fact that the economy has held up in the short term. I would urge all of those who voted to Remain to rekindle the feelings that they felt in the days following 23 June and to make a stand. We need to protect our economic future and the futures of our children and the Liberal Democrats might just provide the platform to achieve that. Do not be cowered by Twitter trolls!
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