DRD Partnership’s roundtable discussion with Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable MP, hosted by leading international law firm, Travers Smith, offered a key insight into the recent Brexit debate raging in Parliament. Sir Vince also gave an overview of the policies the Liberal Democrat, as the most successful Remain party in the recent EU elections, would look to support and potentially implement over the coming months.
Guests were welcome to the offices of Travers Smith by Chris Hale, its Emeritus Chairman. Chris noted how timely the event was and how fortunate we were to hear from such an experienced politician as Sir Vince at the heart of momentous events in Parliament.
Pete Bowyer, who chaired the discussion and heads up the public affairs team at DRD Partnership, introduced Sir Vince. Pete contrasted the difficulties of both the Government in trying to get its Deal through Parliament and the unpopularity of the official opposition, with a resurgent Liberal Democrat Party who are becoming increasingly pivotal in the future direction of British politics.
Sir Vince opened his remarks by stating that the three scenarios that were on the table when the Brexit process first began immediately after the referendum all remain in play today: a Deal, No Deal and No Brexit, although the odds of each may be different now to what they were then.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill, currently in limbo in Parliament, would likely be significantly amended should its passage resume as MPs had three principal objections which he described in order of difficulty: the ‘Irish problem’, the downgrading of workers’ rights/environmental concerns etc and uncertainty at the end of the transition period. The latter would likely be the most problematic due to the diametric views of the opposition, who want to see the period extended, and the ERG, who want to see us moving immediately to WTO terms at its expiration in December 2020.
The other “fork in the road” is that of a General Election. Speaking ahead of the Prime Minister’s proposal for a 12 December election, Sir Vince thought the prospect remote under the Fixed Term Parliament Act as long as the Labour Party refuse to back it, given the two-thirds majority needed to for its approval.
While the recent activity of Parliament should leave little room for surprise, “we could have the bizarre spectacle of a government declaring no confidence in itself” as the only way of forcing the issue. Other possibilities remain in the form of a ‘Government of National Unity’ (in which “old wheelers” such as Sir Vince himself might be expected to participate) or in the overriding of the Fixed Parliament Act with a single-line piece of legislation, although that too is fraught with difficulties as it could be further amended by the opposition.
Away from Brexit, Sir Vince discussed the importance of the next governor of the Bank of England and its continued independence from government. Who gets the job really matters as “the Bank has become a really major institution” with the ability, effectively, to shape economic policy of any government.
Sir Vince, one of the first economists to pick-up signals of the last financial crash, remains concerned about a future crisis as the monetary policy levers required to get us out of a slump such as a reduction in interest rates have already been exhausted.
The discussion then shifted to questions. On the potential impact on the Brexit process of a new Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Vince did not declare for any particular candidate. However, he stated that the principle embodied by the current Speaker of standing up for Parliament against the Executive needed to be maintained.
One attendee raised the issue of investment in public infrastructure. Sir Vince said that one of the biggest regrets he had of the coalition government of which he was a leading player, was its inability to take advantage of historically low interest rates to borrow money cheaply and make massive public investment. He felt that the constraint of requiring a balanced overall budget across the economic cycle should be replaced with the requirement of only balancing the current account.
Returning to Brexit, Sir Vince was asked about the topic of a potential second referendum ending the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Sir Vince stated that no side knows what the result would be were a second referendum to take place, though he highlighted recent polls which show a fairly narrow majority for Remain in the polls, largely as a result of socio-demographic changes rather than people changing their minds. Regardless, Brexit is creating in the UK a “perpetual division” as neither side is likely to be fully satisfied by the outcome which could drag on like the hundred years war.
The round table was part of a regular series of events hosted by DRD Partnership that aim to give our clients and friends a unique insight into UK politics and the opportunity to discuss issues with key figures from across the political spectrum.