Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
The Prime Minister’s speech on the Government’s plans for exiting the EU was, in my view, excellent. It was clear, logical and polite, but firm.
Any reasonable person reading the speech could hardly disagree with it, from the key starting points of the UK wishing to take control of our own laws, manage our own immigration system, and to manage our own trade agreements; to the argument that a free trade regime with European markets is of huge self-interest of the EU.
With the forthcoming negotiations led for the EU by Michel Barnier it strikes me that, provided our negotiators remain calm and reasonable, we have a good chance of achieving the sort of deal which the Prime Minister has described. He understands the importance of the City of London to the economies of the EU. Last year, 88 per cent of EU capital-raising was done in London.
While, correctly, the Prime Minister included reference to the WTO fall back option if the EU “plays silly”, this was set out in language which was reasonable and not aggressive.
Interestingly, I believe the same issue of conducting calm and reasonable negotiations is also going to be fundamental in optimising US/UK relations with President Trump.
At the time of his election victory, I made the point that I could see Trump wanting to position himself as President Regan’s successor, with a close understanding with Theresa May as his Margaret Thatcher. President Trump is also not blind to the fact it was very much Thatcher who made the running in the Reagan/Thatcher relationship.
In an entirely different context the big international issue then and now is of managing successfully the relationship with Russia. I see a great deal of advantage for the UK in having as close a relationship with the US as was the case in the Thatcher/Reagan era, particularly towards achieving sensible arrangements for strengthening NATO and our negotiations with the EU.
But now that President Trump has opened the door to restoring the “special relationship”, it will be extremely important that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and all involved in the current discussions should make the most of the opportunity and carefully avoid giving any offence.
It strikes me that both a sensible deal with the EU and the restoration of close relations with the US are “for the asking”, provided Britain conducts itself wisely. In this context, Theresa May was the only plausible candidate with the necessary experience, discipline and patience to take over as Prime Minister.
My only reservations about the May Government have been a perceived tendency to believe the state can organise things better than the market – which we have learnt, over the last 50 to 60 years, is not the case; and the odd “throw back” to the Edward Heath government’s socialist policies.
Also, as yet, there has been an absence of passion to dramatically reduce the regulations which clutter up much of our economic activities.
Whether lawyers, bankers, fund managers, doctors or other professionals, most of the tedious and time consuming regulations and form filling requirements are about the interests of the professional individuals involved, exonerating their responsibilities and reducing the ability to sue them if they make a mistake. Much of this self-protection is then passed off as regulatory requirements. This practice has come from the US, as a much more litigious place, and needs pruning back in the interests of the consumer.