Greg Wright: Chaos over UK's Brexit strategy could lead to job losses

Looking for a clear view of the post-Brexit world?

Downing Street has been forced to clarify a number of policy positions over Brexit Photo: The Press Association

Don’t expect the Government to enlighten you. Brexit appears to mean whatever the last Government minister says it means and this abdication of leadership could lead to job losses in Yorkshire.

When Britons cast their votes to leave the EU in June 2016, they must have assumed that the Government had a detailed plan tucked away in its top drawer to handle our divorce from the EU.

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It was reasonable to assume, for example, that the Government would have a carefully thought through strategy to negotiate Brexit and secure Britain’s long term ties with our biggest trading partners.

A year later, chaos reigns. When it comes to Brexit, ministers seem incapable of singing off a communal hymn sheet. Downing Street has been forced to wade in to clarify the Government’s position on a number of key policies linked to Brexit. In an apparent rebuke to the Chancellor Philip Hammond, Number 10 dismissed suggestions the UK could seek an “off-the-shelf” transition deal with the EU to provide continuity until a new deal can be secured.

It follows a meeting Mr Hammond had with business leaders during which he reportedly argued in favour of a temporary Norwegian or Swiss style arrangement with the EU to allow more time for the main negotiations.

And while the Prime Minister has expressed support for a transitional deal to avoid a “cliff-edge” for British businesses, her spokesman said the Government is “not looking for an off-the-shelf model”. Meanwhile, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox fuelled rumours of a rift over immigration after he told The Sunday Times the continuation of free movement after 2019 would “not keep faith” with the referendum result.

This put him at loggerheads with the Chancellor and the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, both of whom support a gradual phasing in of new migration rules to provide businesses and EU nationals with continuity and certainty.

Confused? Imagine how the EU negotiators must feel. This could be dismissed as high political farce in the Westminster bubble, but the consequences are potentially very serious.

A new report by consultancy firm Oliver Wyman predicts that Britain’s finance industry could lose up to 40,000 investment banking jobs in the next few years unless it strikes a softer deal on its departure from the EU.

Many banks are taking the sensible step of planning for a worst-case scenario in which they lose access to the European single market once Britain leaves the EU in 2019. They can’t simply twiddle their thumbs and wait and see how the Brexit talks unfold.

So some of the big players have indicated they are finalising plans to set up subsidiaries within the EU.

These initial moves could see around 12,000 to 17,000 banking jobs move out of London but with a number of issues, including around clearing, still to be hammered out, that number could more than double to 40,000, the consultancy estimated. Any contraction in the City will certainly lead to fewer jobs being created or supported in Yorkshire and the rest of Britain. These losses could be reduced with a dash of clear thinking and Cabinet solidarity.

When Mrs May returns from holiday, she ought to be brandishing the Riot Act.

Asda can prove pessimists wrong

To quote Her Majesty the Queen, 2016 really was an “annus horribilis” for Asda. But don’t write it off yet.

Wal-Mart veteran Sean Clarke, who returned to Asda as CEO in July last year, and former Sainsbury’s executive Roger Burnley, who started as chief operations officer three months later, both have the experience and vision to turn the business around

They have already had some success, slowing the rate of Asda’s sales decline to 2.8 per cent in the first quarter.

With two no-nonsense retailers at the helm, Asda has a real chance of proving the pessimists wrong.