I introduced myself to Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond at Davos last week. I was on a mission to find someone — anyone — at the World Economic Forum who believed Brexit was a good idea. After shaking his hand and saying hello, I asked him whether he believed Brexit would create jobs or destroy jobs.
Hammond declined to answer, said he could not talk, and walked away. Hammond spoke on two panels last week, and on neither did he mention jobs.
He was one of only three people at Davos I could find who thought Brexit was a good idea. The others were Prime Minister Theresa May and, possibly, Anthony Scaramucci, the hedge funder who is now an advisor to President Trump. (Although Scaramucci was against Brexit before he was in favour of it, according to his tweets.)
The 2,500 attendees are billionaires, presidents, prime ministers, investment bankers and Noble prize winners. All the panels are about “inclusion” or “inequality” or “poverty.” They are the very definition of the global liberal elite.
And almost universally they regard Brexit — the withdrawal of the UK from the second largest free trade zone on the planet — as economic suicide.
Davos is a notorious bubble, of course.
And this year, the bubble was even more separated from reality than usual. Scaramucci was one of very few representatives of the Trump administration present.
Trump, the rise of UKIP and Brexit in the UK, the increasing strength of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, and Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement in Italy are the real political forces shaping the world. But they were not represented on Davos’s many stages last week.
Instead, on panel after panel, centrist investors and leaders begged us all to preserve the globalisation of trade and open borders policies.
The conference reached its surreal peak when China’s president Xi Jinping spoke from the main stage to a packed audience to make the case for free global trade and for action to meet internationally agreed goals that will reduce climate change. “Protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. Wind and rain may be kept outside but so are light and air,” he said.
That’s how upside-down the world is right now: The communists are in favour of free trade and the conservatives are not; the liberals now distrust Russia while the conservatives say we should be Putin’s friend; and Red China is now more concerned about global warming than the West.
You can dismiss all this as the bleating of rich liberals struggling to understand a world that is running against them. That would be naive. They might live in a bubble but they do know how the world works. They have a pretty good idea of whether Brexit will be good or bad for Britain; whether leaving a free trade zone will make it easier or harder to trade. It’s not hard to guess how this is going to turn out (the pound has already signalled the future).
So don’t be too surprised if you hear a whole lot more silence from Hammond when it comes to post-Brexit jobs.
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