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Now it’s official: Brexit will damage the economy long into the future Jonathan Portes

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“Now it’s official: Brexit will damage the economy long into the future” Jonathan Portes

We’re used to hearing apocalyptic descriptions of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK economy: “the largest fall in economic output since 1709”, was the Office for National Statistics’ verdict eight months ago.

Yet the Office for Budget Responsibility, in its report on Wednesday’s budget, estimates that the long-term impact of Brexit will be more than twice as great as Covid. It thinks that Brexit will reduce UK productivity, and hence GDP per capita, by 4%, while the impact of Covid on GDP will only be 2%, with a slightly smaller impact on GDP per capita.

This shouldn’t be surprising. The fall in output in 2020 was both inevitable and desirable – it was not, in economic terms, that different from an extended holiday. Just like a holiday, we chose to shut down large parts of the economy. The difference was that it was by necessity – to save lives – rather than by choice, but the consequences aren’t that different. The economy shrank, and by a lot.

Holidays don’t reduce the productive capacity of the economy. If a factory shuts down for a month, the machines are still there when it reopens. Similarly, when workers return, they still know how to do their jobs. The virus does not destroy factories, roads, buildings or software and, while its human toll has been dreadful, the impact on the size or composition of the working-age population will be relatively small in macroeconomic terms.

So the worry was not the huge short-term fall in GDP. It was that temporary closures would do permanent damage to the economy. The biggest risk was that, as in the 1980s, we allowed mass unemployment to become entrenched, or viable businesses to go bust.

But, thanks to the furlough scheme and other business support measures, we seem to have avoided that risk in the UK and elsewhere. Indeed, US GDP – boosted by Joe Biden’s stimulus package – has already exceeded its pre-crisis level. The UK is not that far behind, albeit still well below the pre-crisis trend.

Indeed, the most obvious short-term economic problem in most advanced economies are now supply bottlenecks and labour market mismatches as economies reopen, leading to rising wages and shortages of some goods. But while this will – as the OBR also says – reduce both growth and, via inflation, real wages, it will mostly be temporary.

The OBR isn’t entirely sanguine – it still thinks Covid will permanently push some people out of the labour force, through early retirement or potentially long Covid, and that there will be some lasting hit to productivity. But things could have been a lot worse.

By contrast, Brexit is, by its nature, a long-term issue. Just as it took decades for the UK to see the full benefits of EU membership, we’ll still be discussing the economic impacts of Brexit long after I’ve retired.

The direction of those impacts isn’t controversial. The principle that increasing barriers to trade and labour mobility between two large trading partners will reduce trade and migration, and that this will, in general, reduce economic welfare on both sides – but especially for the smaller partner – isn’t really at issue.

While there was no shortage of politicians who argued that, somehow, new trade barriers would not make much difference, or that trade with our closest and largest single trading partner could easily be substituted with trade with the rest of the world, no credible economic analysis endorsed such claims.

Nor is the OBR’s 4% estimate of the impact on the UK economy that different from that of independent economists – we at UK in a Changing Europe put it at just under 6%.

But crucially, both those (and other) estimates predated Brexit. So the news here is that the OBR has taken a hard look at the evidence to date on the actual impact of Brexit. Its conclusion, briefly, is: “so far, so bad”. That is, the UK’s trade performance this year is consistent with its original estimates that UK exports and imports would both fall by 15%.

Indeed, in some respects, the data so far looks even worse than that – UK exports have already fallen by approximately this much compared to pre-pandemic levels, while advanced economies as a whole have seen trade grow. And, again in common with external analysts, the OBR sees no evidence that trade deals with third countries, or any of the other putative economic benefits of Brexit, will offset this in any meaningful way.

No model includes everything. The OBR’s is no exception. It hasn’t accounted for the damage done to education during the pandemic, especially for poorer kids. Here, the government’s failure to fund a serious catch-up programme could leave permanent scars – both economic and social. And, on the other side, a more liberal migration system towards non-European migrants could, in principle, offset some of the damage of Brexit.

But so far, it looks as if, from an economic perspective, Covid is for Christmas, while Brexit is for life.

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Senators reject bill seeking to to reduce CBN’s regulatory power on FX market

Nigerian senators have rejected a bill seeking to amend the Foreign Exchange Act of 2004 expected to reduce the regulatory function of the Central Bank of Nigeria on the Fx Market.

The bill, titled “The Foreign Exchange (Control and Monitoring) Bill, 2024 (SB. 353),” was sponsored by Sani Musa (APC-Niger), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and was first read on Tuesday, February 20.

According to NAN, Musa described the bill as crucial legislation intended to repeal the Foreign Exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, Cap. F34, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

He stated that the proposed law would regulate, monitor, and supervise market transactions and related matters.

He added that the bill will stabilize the country’s foreign exchange market.

“The Bill seeks to stabilize the value of the currency by ensuring the liberalization of foreign exchange transactions to maintain an equilibrium of the balance of international payments.”

However, senators vehemently opposed the bill.

They said it would be counterproductive to CBN’s effort at stabilizing the foreign exchange market.

Senators who opposed the bill are Solomon Adeola (Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation), Tokunbo Abiru (Chairman of the Committee on Banking, Insurance, and Other Financial Institutions), and Aliyu Wadada (Chairman of the Senate Public Accounts Committee.

Senator Ibrahim Dankwambo (APC-Gombe), giving reason for opposing the bill said that passing such a law would confuse Nigerians.

Similarly, Senator Adams Oshiomhole (APC-Edo) pointed out that the senators who had spoken had meticulously summarized and amplified the contradictions and negative implications of passing the law.

Oshiomhole said he believes the bill should not proceed further, as it would effectively take over the CBN’s monetary policy regulations.

The President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, urged Senator Musa to withdraw the proposed law for further consultations but the senator declined.

Senator Akpabio then called for a voice vote to decide its approval or rejection for a second reading and the majority of lawmakers voted against it.

The development comes as the Naira recorded its first appreciationp against the dollar on Thursday, exchanging at N1,554.65 per dollar.

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Oyebanji Seeks Belgium’s Partnership in Technology, Agriculture, Intellectual Capacity Devt for Wealth Creation

Ekiti State Governor, Mr Biodun Oyebanji says his administration is building blocks for mutual bilateral relationships between the State and developed countries of the world to turn around the fortunes of its citizens.

Governor Oyebanji made this known during a meeting with the Belgium Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Pieter Leenknegt at the Belgium Embassy in Abuja, on Wednesday, where potential areas of collaboration were discussed.

Governor Oyebanji who was accompanied by the some state officials, including Commissioner for Budget, Economic Planning and Performance Management, Mr Niyi Adebayo; and Commissioner for Finance, Mr Akin Oyebode, DG office of partnership Biodun Oyeleye, highlighted some critical areas of the State’s 30 – year development plan.

He noted that the state government has a clear vision of opportunities in the areas of ecosystem innovation, technology, renewable energy, environmental management and agricultural production and exportation as well as intellectual capacity development for wealth creation.

“Our vision for Ekiti State is clear. Despite the various challenges, indices and factors being that we are landlocked, we are committed to exploring and leveraging opportunities in ecosystem innovation, technology, renewable energy, and agricultural production. Collaboration with developed nations is crucial for the actualization of our 30-year development plan and ensure sustainable growth and prosperity for our people.”

The Governor highlighted the state’s substantial investments in social programs, commercial agriculture, and various intervention initiatives aimed at boosting the purchasing power of Ekiti’s citizens stressing the necessity of international collaboration to fully realize the state’s ambitious 30-year development plan.

In his response, Ambassador Leenknegt acknowledged Ekiti state’s efforts, which align with global best practices and ECOWAS standards. He advised the Ekiti government to expedite the completion of the state’s airport to improve access and connectivity.

He commended the initiatives behind the Ekiti Knowledge zone noting its potential to transform local knowledge into wealth, expressing Belgium’s interest in partnering with Ekiti State in areas such as communication technology, transportation, and tropical agriculture, including cacao and palm kernel production as well as enhancing academic partnerships between Belgian institutions and universities in Ekiti State.

“We recognize and appreciate the significant strides being made by the Ekiti State government. The Ekiti Knowledge Zone is a remarkable initiative with the potential to turn local knowledge into wealth. Belgium is keen to explore collaboration in areas such as communication technology, transportation, and tropical agriculture, including cacao and palm kernel production.” Said the Ambassador

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NCAA to sanction airlines over deceitful departure schedules

National carrier gets licence today, local airlines fault process

The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has condemned what it calls the prevalent cases of deceitful departure time scheduling by airlines, warning the erring airlines to desist from the infraction or face dire regulatory actions.

The Acting Director General, Civil Aviation, Nigeria, Captain Chris Najomo, while declaring this on Tuesday at the Authority’s corporate headquarters in Abuja, said the NCAA now runs a zero-tolerance approach to regulatory infractions.

Speaking through the NCAA Director of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, Mr. Michael Achimugu, the acting DG warned the airlines to desist from the infraction or face dire regulatory actions.

“He made the ease of doing business the crux of his action plan for the NCAA. In line with that action plan, he has made processes for licensing easy for operators. The time to secure AOC is now shorter and less cumbersome than it used to be in the past,” he stated.

“The NCAA therefore expects reciprocity from airlines. Chief of which is world-class services to passengers.

Najomo said that if the NCAA is making doing business easier for operators, the operators must satisfy the passengers too with superior services.

He said, “It has come to our notice that some airlines are being reported for advertising deceitful departure times. The NCAA regulation says no airline shall display deceitful passenger departure time at its counter, advert material, or on its website.

“We want to make it very clear that the DGCA has directed monitoring and offenders will face serious regulatory actions.”

According to him, the Authority believes in safety, discipline, and economic regulation which is evidenced in the recent suspension of ten PNCF holders for failing to comply with the recertification advisory issued in April 2024.

He indicated that whilst the NCAA supports airlines to be profitable because of their critical value to the economy, it is important passengers are treated fairly.

Speaking about the ease of doing business environment at the NCAA, Capt. Najomo said the ease of business is an area the Authority will continue to improve.

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