The British government is “clueless” about how it achieves its aim when it comes to Brexit, according to UBS senior economic advisor and former chief economist George Magnus.
Magnus — one of the City of London’s most respected economists — said that it seems the government has no idea how to achieve its goals in Brexit negotiations. Speaking on a panel at the Brexit & Global Expansion Summit in London on Monday, he said: “I don’t think there is really a strategy.”
Magnus said that if there were a strategy we would know about it by know, given the amount of stories currently leaking out of government to the press.
Here’s part of what he told the audience:
“I think the government is clueless. I don’t think there is really a strategy. I mean, newspapers are constantly leaking stories about, you know ‘It’s going to be a hard Brexit.’
“Today one of the major papers, the FT, has a story about how the government is going to cough up funds to EU agencies in order to keep passporting alive.
“The prime minister’s statement at the Conservative Party conference a couple of weeks ago was probably the clearest statement we’ve had about the endgame, but how we get there and what happens en route must be very much in play.
“If there was a coherent strategy, we would know something about it at this juncture. That, I think, is not good for business certainty.”
Magnus’ comments come amid an alleged row in the cabinet over what the government’s post-Brexit immigration stance should be.
In recent weeks, it has looked increasingly likely that the UK is heading for a so-called “hard Brexit,” where Britain gains immigration controls but loses access to the single market. But the exact outlines of such a deal are decidedly fuzzy.
Senior EU politicians have constantly said Britain will not be able to remain a member of the single market while also placing restrictions on the free movement. This is the type of deal Theresa May and foreign secretary Boris Johnson had reportedly been eyeing up until recently.
Last week Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council said that talk of so-called “hard” or “soft” Brexit is pointless. By leaving the European Union, Britain will by definition be choosing “hard Brexit,” Tusk said in a speech in Brussels.
It is also unclear how Brexit will be negotiated. So far, the government has frequently said that it will not provide “a running commentary” on negotiations, arguing that providing information to the public about what is going on could weaken the UK’s hand.
Global trade specialist and director of executive recruitment company Circle Square David Archer told The Times last week that trade specialists are reluctant to join the civil service and help negotiate Brexit because there is a widely-shared consensus that Theresa May’s government is a shambles.
“There’s a general consensus amongst negotiators that the UK government is in a state of disarray,” he said, echoing Magnus’ views.
Magnus also said that the post-referendum economic shock predicted by most economists before the vote “is not going to happen.”
Magnus told the conference: “A lot of the kind of the concerns that were issued before the referendum about how we’re going to fall off the edge of a cliff if we vote to leave the EU. That has clearly not happened and in my view is not going to happen any time in the foreseeable future.”
“We can bin the idea of a referendum related shock to the economy. It is not going to happen.”
Magnus spoke at the conference alongside Dr. Gerard Lyons, a former economic advisor to Boris Johnson, as well as WTO chief economist Robert Koopman. Dr. Lyons, who was one of only a handful of economists to publicly back Brexit, said he prefers to delineate between a “messy” or “clean” Brexit. A “clean” Brexit involves a clear break from the European Union.