Dominic Raab is a member of the Exiting the European Union Select Committe, and is MP for Esher and Walton.
With 2017 being the Chinese Year of the Rooster, anyone expecting to take a nap this year after the roller-coaster of 2016 is in for a rude awakening. 2017 will be defined by predictable events, powerful trends and punctuating shocks. But there are huge opportunities as well, to see us through a challenging year.
First, the dates for your diary. In March, Britain will begin Brexit negotiations with the EU, just after Phillip Hammond’s first budget on the 8th. For all the froth currently engulfing the subject, the UK economy will prove its resilience despite a mild dip in the rate of growth, as the contours of Britain’s future relationship with the EU emerge. I‘m confident the UK government will call for an ambitious and positive deal – on trade, security and other areas of cooperation – leaving Brussels caught on the horns of its own dilemma. The EU can either embrace terms that are good for Europeans, or explain to them why trying to punish Britain has the perverse effect of costing Europe more, in jobs, profits and security.
Below the radar, Liam Fox will continue to pave the way for a series of global free trade deals with the rising economies of the future, from Latin America to Asia, that will expand UK export opportunities abroad, creating more jobs and cutting prices for consumers at home. Britain’s development strategy can also now shift its focus from aid to trade, as our new-found trade freedoms offer the greatest scope in a century to help the very poorest countries establish real independence. Quietly, public support for getting on with delivering Brexit will continue to swell, with Britons having little time for the dwindling number of saboteurs in the ranks of the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats.
The real action will be across the channel. Holland’s elections on March 15, and the final round of French Presidential elections on May 7, will strain the post-war pro-EU consensus like never before. Yet, the gravest risk is the fate of Italy. Caught in a fresh banking crisis that threatens to break the Eurozone or push Italy out, theatrics in Rome will test the patience of sober German voters to breaking point – before they head to the polls between August and October. The EU has fomented the ultimate clash between moral hazard and democratic legitimacy, which will provide the backdrop dominating the European skyline, as the EU enters negotiations with Britain. Brexit is a resolvable distraction from the EU’s real problems.
Beyond Europe, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as America’s 45th President on 20 January. With Iran’s presidential election taking place four months later, we will find out whether Trump is serious about ripping up Iran’s nuclear deal with the international community – and what he would replace it with. In the autumn, the Chinese Communist Party will shake up its politburo of leaders at its 19th national Congress, as China stares at its biggest economic challenge for a generation. With total debt rising beyond 260 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, ‘zombie’ firms comatose with liabilities, and hazardous levels of household debt, the world’s second biggest economy faces a debt time bomb, the detonation of which would reverberate around the world.
For Britons focused on less dry pursuits, there will be plenty to cheer. Sports fans will see Anthony Joshua rise to the top of the boxing heavyweight division, if he can beat Wladimir Klitschko, the ageing Ukrainian giant. Andy Murray will chase a Wimbledon three-peat, as the prodigiously talented Morgan Lake tries to fill Jessica Ennis-Hill’s spikes in the heptathlon at the London World Athletics Championships. In June, music buffs will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band, and next month British acting talent will strive to match their recent form, in Hollywood, of sweeping up a quarter of the Oscars.
Lurking beneath the surface of set piece events, we’ll be affected by powerful underlying trends that reinforce the case for stubborn optimism. The world economy is expected to grow at the reasonable clip of three per cent in 2017, which would lift over 12 million more people out of poverty. Global infant mortality will be less than half its 1990 level, giving life chances to millions. Children born in Britain in 2017 will on average live eight years longer than those born in the same year as Prince William and Kate Middelton – and stay healthier for longer too.
We will continue to bank the enormous benefits of technology, as the Internet of Things helps run our lives more smoothly, from homes to cities. We’ll try to better mitigate the risks of internet exploitation too, from school bullying to the spread of terrorist propaganda. Facebook will stride into China, and try to reconcile the allure of a market of 1.3 billion people with protecting the integrity of its brand from Chinese censorship. Google will power 100 per cent of its operations from renewable sources, while Britain looks set to see its first drilling for shale gas, possibly in Nottinghamshire or Lancashire – an important step towards cleaner energy on a sustainable and affordable scale.
Then, there are the shocks – including the predictable but unpreventable events that disrupt and distract from our daily lives. Whether inspired by rogue gangs or orchestrated by arms of the Chinese or Russian state, 2017 will see an increase in the ferocity of cyber-attacks on government, infrastructure and businesses. Islamic State will seek to strike again in Europe, testing Britain’s bolstered security defences and resilience. Not all the surprises will be unpleasant though. Scientific breakthroughs that could come as early as 2017 include Volvo’s pioneering of crash-proof cars, and the US military’s development of neuro-prostheses to empower the paralyzed to walk again.
At home, the biggest political shock may prove enduring Tory unity, as we navigate the choppy waters of Brexit, and the fragmentation of the Left – with the Labour party and Liberal Democrats wracked by divisions.
So don’t blink. But don’t fret too much either. For all the gloomy Eeyores, in 2017, Britons are well-placed to weather the risks and grasp the golden opportunities that lie ahead.