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News Brexit - Press releases

Monday's Business and Politics round-up

11 Feb 2019

Person reading the news on their smartphone on a train

Good morning!

With Valentine's Day fast approaching, some will be contemplating sending letters of love to those they secretly admire.

In entirely separate news, Theresa May has responded in kind to Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit letter, which last week set out Labour's five Brexit demands.

Some Conservatives were concerned as the PM's letter appeared to them to be too affectionate to the idea of a customs union - at least, it did not explicitly rule it out, with further cross-party talks planned. However, a Downing Street spokesperson poured cold water over that view, saying "We must have an independent trade policy."

Speaking of, Reuters reports that Trade Secretary Liam Fox will be in Bern today, announcing a trade continuity deal between the UK and Switzerland.

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Sting in the retail

One in ten high street shops are currently empty, according to new figures from the British Retail Consortium.

BRC's chief exec Helen Dickinson commented that "Retail is undergoing a seismic shift, with technology changing the way we shop". She said that outlets needed to invest "in their physical space to encourage a more experience-led approach to shopping – something which is being held back by sky high business rates."

The Chancellor announced business rates relief for small firms in last year's Budget, a key ask from the IoD among others, however a more fundamental review has been called for. Meanwhile, The Times this morning reports comments from landlords that investment is being held back partly due to a lack of transparency between landlords and tenants.

In other news, Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley has called off his bid for Patisserie Valerie. He originally made his bid on Friday evening.

According to the Financial Times, the offer was in excess of £15m, however this was rebuffed as coming short by around £2m.

Fiscal Phil

The Chancellor must spend billions more to make good on suggestions that austerity is ending, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a prominent economics think tank.

The IFS's research found that an extra £2.2bn should be spent to keep budgets in line with inflation, while £5bn would be required to keep track with the growing population.

A Treasury spokesperson said that the "Chancellor has said that the Spending Review will take place in 2019, and that is the right moment for government to make long term funding decisions", adding that "Outside the NHS, total day-to-day departmental spending is now set to grow in line with inflation, and public investment will reach levels not sustained in 40 years in this parliament."

Meanwhile, research published today by the Resolution Foundation tallies a £1,500 dent to household income since the Brexit referendum. The figure was reached by comparing the OBR's pre-referendum economic forecast with the actual trajectory of the economy.

A spokesperson for the foundation urged: "politicians in all parties" to "recognise how much is at stake for family living standards and that how the country goes forward, not just where it is heading, matters for household incomes in the here and now.”

This morning will see latest GDP figures for the UK released - watch out on Twitter for IoD reaction!

Pension headaches 

The Government is to press on with plans to raise penalties for directors that play fast and loose with company pension funds.

Directors who commit "wilful or grossly reckless behaviour" could face years in prison, or stringent fines.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph over the weekend, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd warned, 'So if you run your company pension into the ground, saddling it with massive, unsustainable debts, we’re coming for you.'

Rudd was lauded by Labour grandee Frank Field, who said she deserved 'huge credit', commenting that "most people would be aghast to hear that this law doesn't already exist".

However, Lib Dem former pensions minister Steve Webb said that the change was "a good headline that risks achieving nothing or worse than nothing", pointing to the high burden of proof required for sentencing.   

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