Extreme Brexiteers may rail against the figures, but the fact is we are going to pay a heavy price if we exit the European Union. That is the most important message from the Autumn Statement Some of us hope public opinion will change and we can yet halt this madness. But as it stands we are heading out and the Chancellor has spelt out the consequences of Brexit.

£59bn of the staggering £122bn of extra borrowing is directly attributable to Brexit according to the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Because of that borrowing our debt to gross domestic product is set to peek at 90% in 2017-18. The weaker pound caused by the Brexit shock is forecast to lead to a 5% increase in food prices next year. A real problem for the Just About Managing.


Perhaps it has been lost a little amidst the analysis of the immediate impact of the Autumn Statement but Philip Hammond this week flagged up a major area of controversy for the next parliament. The triple lock on pensions is to come under review. Rightly so, whilst some pensioners still struggle, most have never had it so good, to coin a phrase. In any case it is the young burdened by tuition fees, job uncertainty and the inability to buy a home that must be top priority for government in the third decade of this century, if not before. The problem is that up to now the elderly vote in larger numbers than the young. In the next parliament ministers will have to be courageous. I think pensioners will get the point but well done Mr Hammond for preparing the way for a change of policy.


At one point it looked as if George Osborne’s pet project was going to be quietly forgotten by his successor. However there was enough support for devolution to force the Chancellor to input significant funds into the Northern economy. £3bn for northern local enterprise partnerships in growth deals, a £400m investment fund to support smaller businesses and £60m in development funding for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Areas about to elect city region mayors like Liverpool City Region and Greater manche4ster will get new borrowing powers. There is talk of a municipal bond to aid infrastructure investment. The continuing failure of Leeds to resolve the elected mayor issue and avail itself of these incentives is notable.

Specific road improvements include the highly congested part of the M60 near Worsley, the Waterfront Link in Warrington and dualling the A66 in the North Pennines.


The big challenge for business in the North is productivity. Nationally we are 30% less productive than the Germans and the North lags well behind London. A Productivity Investment Fund will help. There was relief that the increase in the Living Wage was modest and a welcome for the further cut in corporation tax. Some wanted a VAT cut to mitigate rising inflation but that wasn’t going to happen, nor apparently reform of business rates.


There is widespread dismay that the Chancellor did not address the growing adult social care crisis but overall Philip Hammond showed himself to be a safe pair of hands on his début. He is not as close to the Prime Minister as George Osborne was to David Cameron but nor is there the ruinous rivalry of the Blair/Brown years.

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I was in the Commons this week when the new parliamentary constituency map was announced. It was generally expected that Tory MPs would be jumping for joy. The shake up aims to even up the size of constituencies which currently do not reflect the move of people from the cities (Labour) to the suburbs (Conservative). It is true that the plans could cost Labour roughly two dozen seats, but the change also has another purpose.

David Cameron, the here yesterday and gone now, MP for Witney thought it was a clever response to the MP’s expenses scandal to “cut the cost of politics”. You would have thought he might have decided to trim the size of the House of Lords which is not elected and is nearly 900 strong. But no, Cameron decided to reduce the number of elected MPs from 650 to 600. Therefore this shake up has led to the creation of huge constituencies in rural areas and disruptive change in the conurbations of Leeds, Liverpool and especially Greater Manchester. This aspect of the change will not just affect Labour MPs, but Tories too.

The plan may go through, especially if the Scottish Nationalists do not vote on this English issue, but I found many northern Tories unhappy with both the changes and the principle of downsizing the Commons. It was David Cameron’s idea. He’s not even an MP now and his policies are being comprehensively trashed by Theresa May.

A brief look at the new constituency map for the North shows how sitting Labour and Tory MPs should be worried. Conservative Party rules giving MPs with a large chunk of their old seat safe selection may mitigate blue on blue contests. However they’ve created of a huge North Lancashire seat stretching from the Scottish border to the suburbs of Preston. The consequential scrapping of the Ribble Valley constituency affects Ben Wallace (Preston North) and Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley). Bury will have only one seat threatening Tory David Nuttall in the northern part of the town. Chris Green’s marginal Bolton West gets more Labour wards. Then we come to the decision to cross the Greater Manchester-Cheshire border in two places. George Osborne’s Tatton disappears into a seat including Altrincham. There is the possibility of a fight for the new seat clash between the ex Chancellor and the grammar school supporting Graham Brady. The fortunes of politics! From Chancellor to an MP without a seat in three months.But Osborne’s new Northern Powerhouse think tank suggests he is going to stay and make mischief for Thesesa May. The other cross border constituency is Bramhall and Poynton damaging Lib Dem prospects in the Cheadle and Hazel Grove area.

But Labour will lose seats too. Alison McGovern’s Wirral South disappears as does Ivan Lewis’s Bury South and Jim McMahon’s Oldham West. Leeds West goes as does Yvette Cooper’s Pontefract constituency .The greatest danger to sitting Labour MPs will be the need to hold selection contests on new boundaries. The left wing Momentum organisation will be given the perfect opportunity to punish opponents of Jeremy Corbyn.


I had a chance to question ex Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on the eve of his party’s conference this week.

He was in downbeat mood saying that the normal pendulum of politics had stopped. Normally there was an expectation that it would swing against the government. However with Labour decimated in Scotland, plunged into a civil war in England and with his own party so weak there was every prospect of lengthy Tory rule. The only cloud on that horizon, said Mr Clegg, was the possibility of tensions over Brexit. He identified a fundamental division between Tories who knew the value of the Single Market and sovereignty fanatics.

However when I asked him about centre left unity, he went over old grievances about how Labour had let the Lib Dems down over voting reform before acknowledging that bridges had to be built. Let’s see if the new leader Tim Farron will be more up beat in Brighton.

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Business should demand that next week’s European Summit should settle the terms on which the referendum will be fought in June.

The year has begun badly with the markets jittery and talk of a new recession. There are uncertainties we can’t control in Europe like the Syrian war and oil prices but business should be demanding that the leaders of the EU finally settle Britain’s renegotiation next week so that we can end this tedious debate which is debilitating for business.

Although perhaps one is being naïve in thinking that the June referendum will end this debate. It will if we vote to leave but I fear a narrow vote to stay will result in Euro sceptics blaming an establishment conspiracy and vowing to fight on. Just look at the Scottish Referendum. That’s why this whole referendum idea was a bad idea and I suspect David Cameron agrees with me.

I’m sad to say the whole European project is facing the biggest crisis in its history with its poor handling of the refugee crisis, economic issues and Russian pressure in the East. To lose the UK would be a hammer blow and therefore it is to be hoped that the other 27 countries will not water down the terms that the Prime Minister has negotiated. They are modest, as I always knew they would be, and will be difficult to sell to the British people as it is. But if next week we see Cameron humiliated by an attempt to modify his new terms, then the chances of a vote to leave will grow further.

The temptation will be to put off a decision with the result that the referendum will have to be deferred to the autumn or beyond. That would be highly undesirable for business waiting to make vital investment decisions.

I remain nervous that we will vote to leave as the refugee crisis intensifies during the summer and the Murdoch dominated press continues to spew out its rubbish about the EU. However all is not lost. The disarray in the leave campaign is laughable. Vote Leave, Leave EU, and Grassroots Out are all squabbling with each other. That shows a truth about those that want us to become little islanders off the coast of Europe. Their mentality is to divide and argue whereas the European project is to unite to solve our mutual problems.

So let’s look at what Cameron has negotiated in a positive light. He has won recognition that the UK is not committed to an ever closer union. He has a renewed commitment to a more competitive Europe and protection from Euro Zone decisions. The issue of migrant benefits has assumed an importance to our whole continuation in the EU that it does not merit. However an emergency break and a four year curb will be possible with agreement and there would be lower repatriated child benefit for migrant parents living here.

So for business sake let’s hope the renegotiated terms are agreed next week and all those who believe our future lies within the EU can unite against the squabbling Euro sceptics.




It is understandable that when our stricken ally, France, calls for our help, that the Prime Minister wants to respond. It is also understandable that when the crimes of Daesh are carried out on the streets of Paris, Beirut and elsewhere that we want to lash out.

Although understandable we should not think that our joining in the bombing of Daesh in Syria will bring peace any nearer. We would be better concentrating on stopping the financing of Daesh, stopping or countering its poisonous message on the internet. Then there is Daesh’s oil sales with rumours that Turkey is a customer. If true we cannot take seriously Ankara’s desire to be a member of the EU.

Turkey isn’t the only big power with a complex agenda in the Syrian crisis. David Cameron has failed to give an answer to these complexities and therefore cannot claim to have a long term strategy. He refers to talks in Vienna but look at the agendas countries will bring to the table. Russia is currently committed to propping up Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria. There is talk that President Putin will look for a more acceptable alternative. There is little sign of it. Russia wants to send out a message to the world that it supports its friends. The retention of Assad, even in the short term is totally unacceptable to the “seventy thousand” armed opponents that David Cameron thinks are going to abandon fighting Assad to fight Daesh.

This is a major flaw in Cameron’s strategy. There is no prospect of any nation or group of nations putting enough effective boots on the ground to conduct a land war and conquer Daesh’s headquarters in Raqqa. The West doesn’t want to get burned again and most of the Arab armies are understandably terrified of Daesh brutality. Most Arab countries are not even conducting air strikes. Their rivalries and interests are too complex for them to become effectively involved it seems.

So what is going to happen? I called this blog “Into The Black Hole”, because that is where we are headed I fear. We will join France and the USA in bombing Daesh targets. The terrorists will get a propaganda boost from it. Sooner or later they will commit a major atrocity on British streets and what will we do then with our “no boots on the ground” policy?

There should be a solution to such terrible wars, the United Nations. Soon after it was first set up, the Korean War was ended by UN action. It has passed a resolution calling for military action against Daesh now but there is no UN army or the sort of leadership of a group of armies that prevailed in Korea. The UN is hobbled by lack of funding and often the self interested vetos of members of the Security Council.

Syria is a lethal cocktail of violence, frustration, big power self interest and regional rivalry. I wish I could see a way out of the black hole but I can’t at the moment.