Plebicide Or Silver Lining?

EU Referendum – Strategy Thoughts

À La Recherche Du Temps Trouvé

For many months we have been discussing the EU Referendum.  Since 24 June we have been discussing even more fervently the result, to “Leave”.  To get the obvious question out of the way, yes I voted “Remain”, though recognising the need for EU reform, which still stands.  Now, our old positions so obviously need to be put behind us.  We all recognise the need to work together with others, going forward to create our common wealth rather than dwell on pre-Referendum days.  Personally, I turn to the question, “What Did You Do In The Brexit Daddy (or Granddaddy)?”

Since 24 June, the magnitude of change that the result may have unleashed is only beginning to dawn upon us.  The EU Referendum appeared to hinge around three core issues – sovereignty, economics, and immigration.  The ramifications of the result have destabilised the established UK political parties and perhaps the system, caused financial turmoil worldwide, and encouraged further changes across Europe.  But where there is change there is opportunity.

The opportunity to make major realignments in sovereignty, economics, and inclusion are real and potentially very positive.  We have the opportunity to consider significant improvements in the structure of government, taxation, regulation, immigration and visas, infrastructure, international relations, and much more.  It is heady, and perhaps dangerous, and an opportunity to improve things that rarely passes by.

This letter to The Economist on 9 July is funny, and I’m sure self-aware:

A new entry for the Oxford English Dictionary:

Plebicide n. the self-inflicted ruin of a nation’s prospects or interests via a reckless act of direct democracy.

BRUCE STEEDMAN
St Helier, Jersey

Plebicide

‘Unity and Trade’

The City of London may have an important role in helping to unite the nation, and unite the nation with the world.  If we want to take bolder steps, we could create a more prosperous future for all.  We also need to replenish our reserves of goodwill.  I might emphasise two points for us, ‘unity’ and ‘trade’.  The nation needs to be seen abroad as open, tolerant, and tolerably united.  That unity may mean pointing harder to the City of London’s millennium-old role in forming new businesses and trade, rather than its recent (and in my opinion, inaccurate and unfair) association with a UK bank oligopoly.  Any nation that wishes to prosper must trade from an open and competitive environment.  Competition means that the state sector needs to be modest (taxation under control), that education is paramount, and that cartels, barriers-to-entry, information asymmetries, and agency problems are avoided.  Trade is the gateway to reaping the economic benefits of specialisation and comparative advantage.  What would constitute some bold steps? I thought I might note a few below.

Immediate

It has been disappointing to see how slowly so-called ‘leaders’ have come forward to recognise that EU nationals are valued members of the national community.  There have been some honourable exceptions, most notably the Mayor of London.  It has been heart-breaking to see the scale of hate-crimes the result has encouraged.  Things we could consider doing:

  • provide a clear statement of how much we value the EU nationals who are members of our community. We could back that up by being more public about encouraging them to apply for the Freedom of the City, noting how welcome they are.  We could encourage the government to make a clear ‘for life’ visa statement on resident EU nationals;
  • provide a clear statement to firms of our (City) goals in any negotiations;
  • work hard to get a pan-party delegation to negotiate – http://www.theirishstory.com/2011/12/06/today-in-irish-history-6-december-1921-the-anglo-irish-treaty-is-signed/#.V3jVL7grLGg – so that the end of negotiations is the end and not the beginning of a rejection of any compromises;
  • work hard to assemble a business delegation supporting the pan-party delegation.

Sovereignty

The Guildhall Heritage Gallery currently displays a letter from John Hancock to John Wilkes, Lord Mayor from 1774-1775, that reminds us that the City of London has traditionally played a role in using its sovereignty to advance wider causes, often to the great long-term benefit of all.  Things we could consider doing:

  • connect harder and faster with the Commonwealth using our connections with the Commonwealth Enterprise & Investment Council and Baroness Scotland – should the UK make a more material contribution to the Commonwealth budget (reminder, circa just £46 million annually for the entire budget not the UK’s contribution – less than the not-so-faithfully represented £50 million per day to the EU) – make the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018, and the run-up ahead of time, ten times the scale of the one in Malta last autumn;
  • work harder and faster with the UN on things such as the Sustainable Development Goals via the Business & Sustainable Development Commission;
  • connect with the forgotten – Alderney, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Sark, the Overseas Territories who are truly confused – connect with the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;
  • use our convening powers – perhaps a banquet for some of the segments above, or a special dinner for world trade, or European financial services;
  • perhaps we could even be assertive and play a direct role in the re-regulation of financial services, supporting the return of voluntary standards markets. Could the City sponsor a new financial services regulator for global voluntary standards markets in areas like KYC/AML/Sanction or professionalism working alongside the prudential and compliance arms?

Economics

It’s not scare-mongering, it’s real – we will lose some significant financial services business to other European centres.  Our core problem is now how we’re going to attract new business.  As Z/Yen compiles the Global Financial Centres Index, from our relationships with other financial centres I know that several to many have been in London selling their jurisdiction to firms who need to leave – “just too many moving parts” one US firm said to me.  Things we could consider doing:

  • picking a European financial centre that we think is City of London friendly (Dublin, Amsterdam, Vienna, Hamburg, Milan?) and working with it for the smooth transition of businesses, assisting them with ‘brass plating’ (perhaps using Crown Dependency access too) so that only HQs need move, and at some point some smooth transitions back, mostly from one or two places;
  • tax – our Achilles heel going forward as it is the basis of the money-laundering allegations and increases the complexity of current regulations. A radical move towards a UK land value tax (a GLA interest as well) and a consumption tax (now possible as the VAT regime is moving to a UK VAT regime) could mean the abolition of corporation tax (more realistically setting it at 0%), the removal of income tax, a streamlining of the benefits system (see identity below), perhaps even with immigration control the introduction of a universal minimum income that could work.  Bold statements on tariffs, i.e. zero, could establish London as the global trade centre (interestingly, in 1960 Hong Kong’s GDP/capita was US$429, equal to Jamaica and below Turkey, Greece, Israel, and many others – with effectively a nil corporation tax);
  • to prevent further losses of information and finance businesses, sign up to be the gold standard General Data Protection Regulation despite being outside the EU – analogous to the Maltese strategy of being the first on compliance with EU financial regulation;
  • implement the ‘Open Data’ policies forcefully to create business and a more open trade culture;
  • consider a ‘financial services free trade zone’ for London or parts of London and the UK;
  • develop further the City of London’s UK SME work even wider is sectors such as media, film, shipping, health, or biotech;
  • perhaps be bold and reach out with suggestions (though some months hence) of recreating the Common Market afresh alongside EEA;
  • perhaps be bold and reach out to join other regional trade bodies directly, TTIP, TTP, Mercosur with some unilateral guarantees, e.g. “no tariffs, ever”, etc.;
  • consider tactical moves such as encouraging the old P&I Mutuals (Protection & Indemnity) to return to the UK by reversing the early 1990’s capital regulations;
  • on being ‘green’, issue Environmental Policy Performance Bonds;
  • on financial stability, implement Confidence Accounting;
  • on infrastructure, sure Heathrow, now why not Gatwick too, and any other private entity that wants to take risks on infrastructure for future reward;
  • turn the Intellectual Property Office into one with teeth:
We Need To Reinvent The Patent Process Michael Mainelli 2014 Wired, Condé Nast Publications (October 2014), pages 74-75.

Inclusion

As an immigrant myself several times over, I feel this is the hardest area.  The spirit of the 2012 Olympics was that London was the world’s city, the heart of the global community.  Our focus here should be on simplicity and speed.  Things we could consider doing:

  • become the global centre for work on the global identity problem;[1]
  • encourage the government to be bolder and go visa-less where possible, go electronic everywhere – a global financial centres needs global cosmopolitan people – and consider a ‘London Financial Services’ visa;
  • encourage the government to emulate immediately leading jurisdictions with proper electronic identity systems, Estonia being foremost, i.e. based on mutual distributed ledger (aka blockchain) technology (if you wish to see such a system on my mobile, built with PwC, just ask). Such a system could be more aggressive programme for Gov.UK Verify and:
    • help ‘prove’ that immigration and visa targets are under control;
    • cut $3bn to $5bn from know-your-customer, anti-money-laundering, and ultimate-beneficial-ownership processes in banking, insurance, and investment management, thus making London more competitive rapidly in financial services;
    • having our regulators take the KYC/AML suggestions further, i.e. surcharge those who are non-digital and use paper;
    • setting a stiff national KYC/AML target, e.g. an account opened within three days or a valid reason given;
    • create new global identity businesses in London;
  • establish a tradable route to immigration, i.e. a firm can swap one national for a UK national elsewhere in the world;
  • get a clear message on university students coming to the UK out quickly – perhaps reverse the decision of a while back and allow students to stay for up to two years after a ‘proper’ graduation;
  • guarantee university places to overseas students with an insurance guarantee to cover courses being pulled or visa problems, thus enhancing the UK higher education brand.

Conclusion

The idea of listing the above ideas is not to bring chaos into disorder.  I would hope that some of the above thoughts spark further thinking.  I recognise that it is a long walk from a set of thoughts, to good ideas, to implementing just a few well.  But we do have a heck of an opportunity to implement perhaps some special few and perhaps explain to our children and grandchildren that we did do something for City and Country in the great EU transformation.  Anyway, “let’s be optimistic, pessimism is for better times”.

[1]  About 2.4 billion people worldwide lack official identification, about 1.5 billion over the age of 14.  While they certainly know who they are, they are excluded from market economy property ownership, and frequently free movement, social protection, and empowerment.  They cannot ‘prove’ their existence to the satisfaction of society’s registries.  Lack of official identification increases remittance costs, corruption, and crime.  Insightfully, United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 “Peace, Justice And Strong Institutions” contains target 16.9 to “provide legal identity to all, including birth registration, by 2030”. See also Z/Yen’s work on IDchainZ.