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Thursday's Business and Politics round-up

07 Dec 2017

Person sat at a table reading a newspaper

Good morning,

Copy-editors across the country winced yesterday, as local paper Cambridge News accidentally published ‘100PT SPLASH HEADING HERE’ in place of a headline on their front page.

The editor of the newspaper apologised sincerely, saying that he wanted ‘our readers to know we take this seriously’. Most readers, on the other hand, took it hilariously.

It all goes to show the value of a good editor. Someone to look over your shoulder at what you’ve written. Someone to check your text is saying what you really want. Someone to have the courage to send you back to the drawing board if it isn’t.

Whether or not Theresa May would agree is unclear. Regardless, the fallout from Monday’s abortive deal on the Irish border continues. May is reported to be conducting ‘frantic telephone diplomacy’ between Belfast and Dublin.

The ambassadors of EU member states are ‘waiting for something from London’. EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier has also been attempting to apply pressure, apparently giving May 48 hours to seal a deal on the border.

Meanwhile, we have had the distraction of the impact-assessments-that-weren’t-really-assessments-but-actually-sectoral-analyses-ish. These documents have given rise to much consternation – see Exhibit A, the front page of The National.

The Brexit impasse appears in stark contrast to President Trump’s abrupt announcement that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The move dominates many front pages in the UK this morning. One front page from which Trump will be notably absent, however, is TIME Magazine. The US outlet has bestowed their ‘Person of the Year’ award to ‘the silence breakers’, a group of women who this year have shared their stories of sexual harassment.


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I got 99 solutions

If you're in London today make sure to pick up a copy of City AM this morning. The paper’s front page runs the story, based on IoD research, that ‘Entrepreneurs are feeling confident about 2018’. The news also makes the leader for The Sun today.

In a survey of 628 members of the IoD99, a group for entrepreneurs set up in 2015, over four-fifths (83%) say they are very or quite optimistic about the prospects for their business over the next 12 months. By contrast, only half (56%) of the businesses in the IoD’s overall membership feel optimistic about their own companies, in a separate survey of 687 individuals.

Both groups of business leaders report lower confidence about the economy in general, with only 4 in 10 in the start-up group, and a third among the IoD’s whole membership, saying they are optimistic about the UK’s performance over the next 12 months.

The leading challenges to growth were seen to be the uncertainty around Brexit, and access to finance.

The release of the survey results coincides with the IoD99 becoming the UK’s official representative in the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance. This is a role in which the IoD will work with business representatives from around the world in order to identify and overcome the obstacles to start-up growth globally.

Commenting on the findings, Director General Stephen Martin, said “Even in light of the uncertain political climate, our start-up founders are demonstrating that the British entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. In fact, I have no doubt that the IoD99 will be at the vanguard of those seizing the opportunities that arise in the years to come as we leave the European Union."

If you want to read more on this, Mr Martin has an article, also in City AM today, banging the drum of the British entrepreneurial spirit.

Defence of the helm

Discontent seems to be brewing between Philip Hammond and Defence Secretary – and until recently Chief Whip – Gavin Williamson.

Yesterday it was revealed that the Chancellor (who was himself Defence Secretary in a past life) has been banned from using RAF aircraft until the Treasury settles a bill for previous use.

Now the row appears to have escalated, with the Times running an article, ‘Philip Hammond questions defence secretary Gavin Williamson’s grip on the job’. Hammond may have implied that his colleague had not yet ‘got his head around the defence budget’.

Spreadsheet Phil has also irked some Brexiteers by stating that he found it ‘inconceivable’ that the UK might not pay a Brexit ‘divorce bill’. Some have suggested that this bill should be contingent upon a the securing of a beneficial trade deal with the EU.

The frisson between these individual members of the Cabinet may be less concerning than the fact that it appears the Cabinet as a whole are still to have an full-on discussion on the “end-state” – what kind of trading relationship with the EU they want to see following Brexit.

Busy Bs

It seems you cannot open a newspaper these days without seeing the two Bs – Bitcoin and Brexit. So this morning I thought I would give you a short update on both.

You guessed it – Bitcoin – has reached yet another new high, crossing $14,000 (£10,460; €11,870) on Thursday, surging $2,000 in less than 24 hours. When will it end, I hear you say? Well if I knew, I may be worth way more than the cryptocurrency itself.

It began the year below $1,000 but continues its sharp rise despite warnings of a dangerous bubble. Bitcoin hit the latest milestone during early trading in Asia, according to the website Coindesk.com.

On the other B – Brexit – the CEO of the UK’s fifth-largest bank Standard Chartered, Bill Winters, said they are “preparing for the worst” in an interview with the BBC. He also warned that the UK's ability to attract talent is already suffering, following the vote to leave the EU.

The UK-headquartered bank is in the process of turning its Frankfurt branch into a subsidiary requiring additional capital, licences and staff. He said this was "inconvenient and expensive" and will damage London.

He added "London will take hits in the context of Brexit… I think big parts of the euro-denominated corporate banking business will be forced into Europe."

However, it wasn’t all did and gloom – he added that that the capital was an “incredibly dynamic and resilient city”.

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