Global Britain just became the world’s top investment destination (despite Brexit, of course)

Global Britain just became the world’s top investment destination (despite Brexit, of course)

Another week and another piece of good news in the real world – not the parallel, unproductive world of Westminster. Last week the UK was acclaimed as the global number one for investment – displacing the US, an economy nine times our size. But surely it can’t be true – the UK is leaving the world, after all; are we not shutting down as a result of Brexit?!?

We operate in parallel universes. While much of Westminster, our civil service and media spout daily tales of woe as Brexit is alleged to put up walls (Chancellor Hammond used that very phrase just the other week in a speech in the US), destroy opportunity and economic prosperity in the real world – the opposite has happened.

A central plank of the Remain case was that to leave the Single Market would make Britain irrelevant to the rest of the world and destroy inward investment. It really was that simple. Why would anyone invest in little Britain when they could go to the mighty France or Germany, as part of the EU?

This claim was repeated time and time again using the simplistic logic that we needed to be part of something big to trade with other countries. This logic is both defeatist and deeply flawed.

Trade and investment is about rule of law; stable governance; transparent, relatively low and stable tax; defendable property rights; educational, scientific and cultural excellence – and of course hard work, a good idea and strategic advantage – amongst many other variables. Trade deals were of pretty minor tier 2 importance in our view and as the UK trades at a surplus with the world – but has a £96bn deficit with the EU – under any sensible negotiations, a zero tariff mutual regulatory respect deal should easily have been possible. If Canada – which trades less than 10% as much to the EU as the UK does – can achieve it, why not the UK?

We only have to see how the EU prevaricates and quakes at the very thought of a so-called ‘no deal’ to know this to be true. Sadly the defeatists in our Government and Parliament don’t see it that way.

Global Britain argued, rather modestly, that Brexit in itself was no big economic deal. Brexit is not a panacea. It is a process, but one that gives an opportunity for the UK to do so much better than the dull, under-performing conformity of the EU.

Like a tool used properly, Brexit could enhance Britain’s global position and prosperity, but only if reasonably open, stable and non-arbitrary policies were adopted. There was much to go for, over time, as the EU’s regulatory regime doubled down by stifling innovation, choice and prosperity. You can already see that is the trend the EU is taking. Misunderstanding the EU’s direction of travel is why we were one of a small number of commentators to argue a vote to leave would enhance prosperity not detract from it.

It is now over two and a half years since the UK voted to leave and the evidence is increasingly overwhelming. The Jeremiahs of Remain were completely and totally wrong on almost every front: on growth, on City jobs, on total employment, on wage growth and now on investment.

Indeed, the polar opposite to their projections has happened. The global consultancy EY’s annual survey of investment trends, now it its tenth year, for the first time ever has put the UK as the world’s top investment destination – extraordinarily topping even the US, an economy far, far bigger than ours. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) increased 6% in 2017 (the latest available figures) over the previous year, creating an estimated 50,196 new jobs. There were 1,205 new projects against 1,138 in 2016 and only 700 in 2012. Growth was strongest outside London, especially in the South East, East and South West. The UK is the clear European market leader in attracting FDI with 18% market share. FDI created 50,000 jobs in the UK, 31,000 in Germany, 26,000 in Russia, 24,000 in France and 23,000 in Poland. When surveyed about Brexit, 6% of investors said it decreased their attraction to the UK, while 7% said it increased their attraction.

The UK is the market leader in attracting US investment (24%) against second-placed France (16%) – with the level of investment going up from the US, Germany, China, India, Japan, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain. Only investment from France and Ireland saw declines. Key areas for investment, again perhaps counter-intuitively, were consumer products, industrials and financial services.

In short, global investors have flocked to the UK since we voted for Brexit – contrary to the Treasury and Bank of England claim that there would be an immediate lurch into recession.

The vote to leave has, if anything, encouraged investment into the UK. Doubtless our opponents will argue ‘well we haven’t left yet, so it is no surprise’. That argument simply will not wash. Investment decisions are not made on a whim, but on long-term analysis of opportunity. One does not invest tens of millions of pounds in hard capital and plant on a short-term view. Investors have known the UK was leaving and have voted with their wallets. They are here for the long term and that is despite a pathetic response from our Government.

Ironically, some of the biggest investors in the UK have been companies from the EU. Siemens of Germany has invested £200m in its new rail factory in Goole, with 700 direct and a further 1,700 supply-chain jobs expected as a result. The Spanish company CAF has opened its £30m Newport factory, creating 300 jobs, Bombardier from Canada is increasing production, creating another 300 jobs and Talgo is committed to opening a new £40m factory in Fife and a hub in Chesterfield, creating 1,000 jobs.

Boeing opened its first European factory in Sheffield last year following £40m of investment. Boeing supports 74,000 jobs in the UK – a 33% increase in the last five years – and spends £1.8bn with UK suppliers. And now, despite all the supposed worries about Brexit being a threat to British car manufacturing, BMW is considering expanding its Goodwood production of Rolls Royce cars after record worldwide sales.

These stories are just a snapshot of real news being released every week. The reality of what is happening in British investment – and especially manufacturing – is completely at odds with what is being presented by the opponents of Brexit and much of the media. It is often said UK doesn’t make anything anymore but the statistics say different: manufacturing employs 2.7 million people, contributes 11% of GVA, accounts for 45% 0f total exports (£275bn), is responsible for 69% of business R&D – making the UK the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world.

It is also instructive that one of the key areas of investment has been financial services. Of course, the consensual voices claimed Brexit would destroy the financial services industry as it moved to Frankfurt. They also claimed that when the single currency was born. How ironic that overseas investment in the financial services industry is one of the top three sectors for investment.

How often can these official forecasters, who are given so much media airplay, be wrong? Why are they given so much weight by the media? There are numerous independent forecasters with consistently better records. We at Global Britain like to think we are one of them!

Global Britain argued that with the right policies Brexit was an opportunity for the City in the long term and in the short term perhaps 10,000 jobs might be at risk. Others, including the Treasury, claimed 70,000 jobs would be lost, an absurd near-quarter of all City of London financial services employment. The reality is we were too pessimistic. The decision to leave has had almost no measurable impact at all on the City, which continues to enjoy almost total dominance in European financial services. As the EY survey shows, this is the case across the economy too.

Let us look at what has happened over the last two years:

  • Inward investment – the UK for the first time ever is the global number 1, displacing the US;
  • Investment is broadly based across numerous sectors including manufacturing, IT, financial services and business services;
  • Unemployment is now the joint lowest since 1974;
  • Total employment is now 32.7 million – the biggest ever, growing by 800,000 since the referendum – contrasting with the Treasury’s predicted 500,000 fall in employment immediately on a leave vote – a positive gain of 1.3 million jobs over what was predicted;
  • Wage growth in February was 3.5% – the joint highest on record (with 2008) – ahead of inflation which was 1.9% in the same month;
  • The UK minimum wage is the highest of any major country in the EU and twice that of Spain, three times that of Poland and six times that of Romania. No wonder the UK is a beacon for workers; and,
  • GDP has grown each and every quarter, in contrast to the absurd Treasury forecast of a fall of 5%.

Contrast this with the EU:

  • Unemployment is over twice the UK level;
  • Germany and Italy flirt with recession;
  • Monetary policy remains at an all-time extreme. 10-year German bunds yield 0.05%. Despite this, the German economy stagnates;
  • Failure to stabilise the EU banking system: significant unresolved stress in Italy, forced banking mergers in Germany – and Greece on life support, with that economy 23% smaller than a decade ago; and,
  • Continuing migration away from the EU’s south to the UK and the north – where the opportunity is.

Of course the UK should not be complacent; much needs to be done to strengthen the public finances and tackle regional variances, but our opponents’ theological attachment to the EU is creating a false reality. Their lens is based on a utopian vision of what the EU is not. As the Americans say, “look at the math”.

Leave has been right about economic outcomes on almost every front. The latest inward investment numbers are further proof, if it be needed. Bizarrely the Conservative Party is so in awe of its failing Brussels cousin that it has lost the confidence to demonstrate our own strengths. The Conservative Government is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory based on a false reality and shameful distortion of the facts.