In the end, the energy wonks were disappointed. Weeks of speculation about Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant were ended by the go-ahead for a deal which looks remarkably similar to the one previously on the table. The changes, and where they came from, were not about energy but security. The proposals which accompanied the decision are something of a glimpse into the post-Brexit future. However, some of the bolder claims, that they mark a serious retrenchment from Britain’s status as the most open of economies, should be treated with caution, as should any attempt to link the proposals directly to Brexit.
Everyday it seems there is another responsible investment framework, or new updates to comply with. Investors have driven the creation of these frameworks – now they need to drive their consolidation.
It was interesting to watch the new UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis face-off for the first time with the British Parliament this week. As expected, he was pushed on the detail of his vision for the future relationship between the EU and the UK and he ultimately got in trouble with his boss in Number 10 for sounding a bit too sure on the question of whether the UK would leave the EU single market.
As a £400bn investor in the British economy, the Japanese deserve the attention of the UK Government on the question of how Brexit is handled. The economic relationship with Tokyo is important. Japan is a big trading partner, providing the destination for 1.5% of British goods exports and 2.6% of services last year. It’s a top tier inward investor, accounting for 3.5% of the stock of direct investment in Britain. But it is in a different class as a portfolio investor, with no less than a 5.3% share.
Yesterday brought a remarkable turn-around in the fortunes of Hutchison and its plans to acquire greater market share in Europe’s mobile markets, only months after its acquisition of Telefonica’s O2 had been rejected. The European Commission announced that it had approved a joint venture between WIND and H3G in Italy, owned respectively by Vimpelcom and Hutchison, two of the country’s four major mobile operators.
Alok Sharma’s first visit to China this week as the UK’s new Minister for Asia and the Pacific has been somewhat overshadowed by tensions over the Hinkley point investment. Sharma will no doubt have gone equipped with reassurances that the UK is still committed to a strong relationship with China, including the promise that new Prime Minister Theresa May will make the trip to the G20 in Hangzhou next month. But Sharma will also have been charged with laying some of the preliminary groundwork for a possible future trade deal with Beijing after the UK has exited the EU. UK Development Minister Priti Patel was in India earlier this week with a similar message about the UK’s appetite for future trade relations.
On school exam results day, in mid-August, while politicians relax on holiday and the Olympic Games dominates headlines, the UK Government has published its long-awaited strategy for tackling childhood obesity. The eyebrow-raising timing is explained by the fact that the majority of the more muscular interventions under discussion, and long hoped for by the health community, have been dropped. While the debate about obesity will rage on, the plan and its communication give us an early insight into the calculus of Theresa May and her new administration.
Almost four weeks on from the vote to leave the EU and the FTSE 250 has edged back up to just 0.4% below where it started before the polls closed, while the FTSE 100 has surged by 6.5% (all values are at the close of markets on 27 July). This is an impressive turnaround from the day after the vote when the FTSE 100 dropped by 3% and the FTSE 250 by over 7%.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has followed Theresa May in making a provocative and eye-catching appointment. This is partly to compensate for negotiations on both sides beginning to resemble a slow bicycle race, with neither side incentivised to reveal their objectives. But while technical work is underway, these headline appointments are also a useful way of signalling intent and building support.
Amid the macho jostling between British politicians to set out ‘red lines’ for negotiating post-Brexit arrangements with the EU, where will British Prime Minister Theresa May turn for guidance? Rather than to her divided and inexperienced cabinet, there are good reasons for her to look at the records of predecessors Thatcher and Brown. Both bluntly but effectively framed pan-European challenges for other leaders in terms that required London-made solutions, whether completing the single market in goods or the financial crisis response. May will certainly want to move on quickly from the more affable but transactional legacy of her immediate predecessor, whose ‘renegotiation’ boiled down British interests to a narrow set of requests.