Friday, March 09, 2018

China may hold trump card in Trump trade war

On Thursday 8th March 2018 the US President Donald Trump signed an order which pushes forward a plan for 25% tariffs on imports of steel and a 10% tariff on aluminium.

Trump claims it is all about protecting American jobs and to stop cheap foreign steel imports being dumped in the US. But while his motives might be laudable his methods could well spark a trade war which could damage not only the US but slow the global economy which could in turn precipitate another global recession [Guardian].

There is no nation that is 100% self sufficient. Globalisation has made every country reliant on another. But some nations are more resilient than others. The more developed a nation is the greater its susceptibility to a disruption of imports of raw materials, agricultural products or energy supplies.

Fiery rhetoric

In a recent tweet Trump proclaimed that "trade wars are good, and easy to win". But he was immediately slapped down by European Council President Donald Tusk who said the very opposite was true.

"President Trump has recently said and I quote, 'trade wars are good and easy to win.' But the truth is quite the opposite. Trade wars are bad and easy to lose," Tusk told a press conference in Luxembourg [RTE / Guardian].

As the EU drew up a list of products which might have increased tariffs upon them Trump merely retorted that he would respond in kind.

After Trump announced he would impose tariffs on steel and aluminium the EU suggested it might impose tariffs on US imports such as Harley-Davidson motorbikes, Levi's jeans and Kentucky bourbon whiskey [Bloomberg]. Trump then responded saying tariffs could be extended to European cars. The EU's list then grew to include peanut butter, cranberry and orange juice [BBC].

Waking the dragon

But this tit for tat reaction will be nothing compared to the trade war that could break out between the US and China.

There has been much talk over China's dumping of steel on world markets. This is certainly an issue and China should arguably be taken to task. However, Trump's methodology could unleash a hornets nest. And at the very least could be described as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

China might not be able to bring the US down but it could seriously damage the US economy. That said there are many myths surrounding the economic relationship between the United States and China.

The fact that China has become the largest foreign holder of US government securities is often taken as indicating that the United States is heavily dependent on China to finance its budget deficits. Similarly, since China is a major source for US imports, US consumers are seen as dependent on cheap Chinese goods.

Dumping its US government securities could cause problems as much for China as it might for the US [CFR].

However while the average consumer may not be affected if cheap imports of clothes and toys were to dry up there are some imports that are far more vital to the US.

There is much interconnectedness between China and the US [Business Insider]. Some is economic and some has to do with manufacturing.

One particular concern for some in in the US is whether China could pull out the rug from the US technology industry.

Rare earth reliance

Apple and other tech firms have relocated to China and any disruption to this supply chain could hurt the US [Bloomberg]. But this is just the tip of the technological iceberg.

China supplies much of the world's so-called rare earths, elements such as lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, gadolinium, yttrium, terbium, europium [BBC / Wikipedia]. Despite their name, most are abundant in nature but are hazardous to extract [BBC]. Thus many countries have significantly reduced their mining operations on environmental grounds leaving China as one of the few countries to corner the market.

But why are rare earths important? Rare earths are a big part of our modern world.  They are in clean energy technologies like wind turbines and solar cells and in many things we use everyday such as cars, cell phones, computers and televisions. Without dyprosiumif there might be no smartphones or MRI scans [].  

But the biggest concern for the US is the fact that many rare earths are necessary for high-performance guidance systems. US military technologies such as guided bombs and night vision rely heavily upon rare earth elements supplied by China, and rebuilding an independent US supply chain to wean the country off foreign dependency could take up to 15 years, according to a 2010 report published by the US Government Accountability Office [GAO report PDF] [Live Science].

No instant fix

Some 7 years after that report was published and the US is still very much reliant on China to supply these resources [Investor Intel], although another GAO report skims over US reliance on China [GAO report 2016 PDF]

In December 2017 Trump signed an executive order intended to reduce the United States' reliance on other countries for rare earth supplies. But this will be no instant fix. Even Trump's intended shift to buy from other countries such as Australia where companies like Lynas Corp have been mining for nearly two decades is unlikely to fill any gaps left should Chinese rare earth supplies dry up [Bloomberg].

Indeed it could be years before the US becomes self sufficient. In 2016, the US was reliant on imports for 23 minerals including cobalt, lithium, graphite and rare-earth elements, according to a report released this last year by the Interior Department. The country was most reliant on China, which supplied the world's biggest economy with at least 20 critical minerals, the report said.

And this is where China could bite back hard should Trump make things difficult in a trade war.

Past form

It won't be the first time China has used its mining and supply of rare earths as leverage. In late 2009 and throughout 2010, at a time when China produced 97% of the world's rare earths, China tightened its grip on exports [FT / NYT / tvnewswatch - China tightens up on rare earths Oct 2010]

China has already accused Trump of risking a global trade war and says it will retaliate [Sky News]. In a statement China described Trump's decision to levy a 25% surcharge on steel and 10% on aluminium as a "serious attack on normal international trade order".

Elsewhere in Asia, Japan said the move would have a "big impact" on its close relations with the US while South Korea said it may file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation.

Beijing has not yet said how it might react, only that it would "firmly defend its legitimate rights and interests".

China has not mentioned any increased tariffs or block on exports. Indeed only commentators have even mentioned rare earths as being China's secret weapon [Reuters / CNN / ATimes].

Should a prolonged trade war break out and China block rare earth exports then the US could conceivably find itself in a very difficult position.

Recession & war

World Trade Organization Director General Roberto Azevêdo recently said that the "potential for escalation is real, as we have seen from the initial responses of others. A trade war is in no one's interests. The WTO will be watching the situation very closely."

The European Council President Donald Tusk was right to say that trade wars are bad and easy to lose. But he could also added that Trump's trade war could end with more than economic conflict.

The lesson of history is clear. Trade wars have no winners. And they are certainly not good. They can damage the economies of all countries involved, raising tensions and increasing the risk of international conflict.

Most people living today won't remember the last trade war which is blamed for worsening the pain of the Great Depression [CNN / Fortune]. That in turn helped to foster the political extremism that led to World War Two.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, March 08, 2018

No winners for UK fishing industry post-Brexit

Both Theresa May and the Chancellor Philip Hammond have been accused of selling out the fishing industry in order to seal a Brexit deal [The NationalTelegraph].

However, the suggestions that UK fishermen might not win waters back after Brexit has been on the table for some time. Indeed a memo published in early 2017 and obtained by the Guardian says that many agreements relating to the CPA would remain in place in order to keep to commitments on sustainable fishing [Guardian]. 

Such suggestions might be difficult for many Brexiters to swallow [Channel 4 News]. Indeed Nigel Farage was screaming "betrayal" as it was suggested the UK might make concessions or apply 'reciprocal arrangements' [Express].

But there may in fact be no deal at the end of all the the wrangling given the rhetoric and and statements coming from both sides in the last few weeks.

Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier have consistently stated there will be no cherry picking or bespoke deals, whilst backed up unanimously by the EU 27. Meanwhile Theresa May [Channel 4 News], David Davis and Philip Hammond repeatedly makes speeches setting out unrealistic visions which boil down to just that; cherry picking.

The UK fishing industry and the Common Fisheries Policy became a divisive issue in the referendum campaign.

There are certainly inequalities and the CFP does need an overhaul. For example under the CFP, overseas fishing fleets can actually catch more of certain fish in areas of UK waters than British fishermen [BBC].

Whilst partially true to say the CFP has affected the British industry it is not the whole story. Indeed overfishing in general has affected the industry across the board [Full Fact].

But will Britain be any better outside the EU? 

Currently some 75% of home-caught fish is exported - and majority of fish eaten by Britons is imported, mainly from Europe [This is Money].

Britain imports big quantities of prawns and tuna from the EU, while its main fish export is mackerel which is caught primarily of the Scottish coast. But this situation could be turned upside down if tariffs were to be imposed on such trades.

As Britain heads inexorably towards a WTO Brexit the likelihood of punitive tariffs looks ever more likely.

Some 666,000 tonnes of fish was farmed and caught in the UK in 2014, of which 499,000 tonnes [75%] were exported, and 66% of those exports went to the EU. Meanwhile the UK also imported 721,000 tonnes of fish, 32% of which came from the EU.

Under WTO rules fish and crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic invertebrates are subject to an 11% tariff, meaning the UK could lose some £92 million of the average yearly £840 million worth of exports [in 2015] sent to the EU [Source: ONS, WTO, Independent].

Figures and statistics do vary of course. The FT reported that Britain exported £921 million of fish [including £224 million salmon] to the EU in 2015, whereas total landings - the amount brought to the UK - were worth £775 million. Nonetheless, the figure is certainly substantial.

There is also an uncomfortable trend in that fish imports to the UK have increased since 2003 as exports have decreased [BBC]. In plain terms this will mean that British consumers will be paying more for their fish and chips while Britain's fishermen will be struggling to sell their fish to a market which would be put off by tariffs.

For Britain's fishermen this could prove devastating. And chances of government help are unlikely. Fishing is worth £1.3 billion to the UK economy and employs 34,600 people. However in percentage terms it is only a tiny part of the UK economy, contributing less than half a percent to annual GDP. For government any decision to help an ailing industry would be an economic rather than an emotional one. And with the noises currently coming from Westminster concerning the British car industry and financial services make clear that fishing will be last on the list of priorities.

After Brexit it was claimed Britain would be able to "take back control" of its territorial waters up to the 200 nautical miles currently allowed by the CFP.

However the English fleet traditionally catches its fish in Irish, French and Norwegian, as well as UK, waters.

Should no deal be made UK fishing boats will be hemmed in and unable to fish some of its traditional fishing grounds. Meanwhile British authorities will once again face the issue of policing Britain's waters [BBC].

As in many other aspects of the EU negotiation, Britain could refuse to do a deal and go its own way.

But the British government would need to consider the consequences of such a move. The breakdown of any agreement would probably lead to overfishing and the depletion of stocks. It would result in the imposition of tariff barriers. Above all, the British would have to ask themselves whether they could effectively patrol and defend UK waters against fishing boats from EU states. Given these constraints, Britain has little room for manoeuvre in negotiations over post-CFP arrangements. The UK fishing community may emerge from Brexit in a weaker position than it expects.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, March 02, 2018

Is Brexit killing off Britain's high streets?

This week both Maplin and Toys R Us went into administration putting more than 5,000 jobs in jeopardy [BBC / BBC]. It wasn't the only bad news for February. On the same day Prezzo, the Italian restaurant chain, announced it was to close 100 of its 300 branches risking a third of its 4,500 employees [BBC]. And earlier in the month the bed maker Warren Evans became another victim as it too went into administration putting 300 jobs at risk [City AM].   

Supermarket chains have also made cutbacks. In early February Morrisons announced it was to axe 1,500 jobs in middle management [BBC]. Meanwhile January saw Sainsbury announcing it was to shed thousands of shop floor jobs as part of a major shake-up at the firm [BBC]. Tesco too said it was cutting some 1,400 staff [BBC / Guardian].

January also saw Marks & Spencer put some 500 jobs at risk as it announced the closure of 14 outlets [Guardian].

All these major chains said some jobs would be reabsorbed in other roles, but there would undoubtedly be some redundancies given the continuing trend to make cutbacks.

Statistically the rate of retail store closures less than seen in 2010 according to Consultancy website.  

Since the global financial crisis, British high streets have taken a consistent battering – with retailers Woolworths, media stores Zaavi and HMV, and electrical goods provider Comet among the formerly high-profile casualties of the economic turbulence that began with 2007's infamous credit crunch. Major brands have been vacating bricks-and-mortar presences for years since, a process accelerated by the boom in disruptive ecommerce platforms over the past decade. However, according to the latest analysis from PwC and The Local Data Company (LDC), the number of stores closing in the UK has fallen to 14 a day – the lowest level since before 2010

However, while closures may not be occurring at the same rate there is a growing trend to make cutbacks. And there are still some worrying signs that Brexit is having a marked effect on the high street.

There is growing uncertainty in the retail sector and some firms have specifically cited Brexit as a having a causal link to their cutbacks and closures. Maplin's CEO blamed "sterling devaluation post-Brexit, a weak consumer environment and the withdrawal of credit insurance" for the firm's demise [Retail-Week].

It is nearly a year after Theresa May invoked article 50 and some 20 months after the EU referendum. And the weak pound and the general uncertainty concerning Britain's future trading position is affecting investment and future planning.

After a grim December, many retailers had been hoping for a bounceback, but the figures have showed that consumers were not as hardy as they once were and the retail sector is facing a long-term, continuing slowdown.

Shoppers are being hit by declining real wages, record levels of consumer debt and the prospect of higher borrowing costs [City AM].

Meanwhile a weak pound has resulted in higher costs for importers and retailers. Indeed, rising cost of imports such as food and fuel since Brexit vote is pushing prices to rise at faster rate than anywhere in G7 according to the OECD [Guardian].

With inflation running at 3.1%, Brexit is squeezing living standards. Bread is 5.3% more expensive than this time last year, whilst the price of butter is up by over 21%. Fresh fish is up over 11%, whilst coffee is over 10% more expensive. Overall, on average, food and non-alcoholic drink prices have risen by 4.2% over the last 12 months.

And with job uncertainty and wage stagnation, consumer confidence is dropping. In turn this leads to retailers rethinking their future. Some are making cutbacks and shedding jobs. But others have been forced out of business.

It is easy to point to the advent of the Internet and the effects of online shopping as having causal a causal link to the closure of the likes of Toys R Us or Maplin. But there are other factors that have created problems for physical stores.

In a healthy economy where consumers have the spare cash to buy, real world outlets have fewer issues. A small markup on price is not such a big deal for consumers who like to browse bookstores, record stores, fashion retailers and toy shops. But in a cash-strapped society consumers will be far more savvy.

Physical stores face bigger overheads than online retailers. Employee numbers are often higher, and may often be higher paid than online retailers. Bricks and mortar stores also face higher business rates especially in town where they also face further issues concerning increased problems of parking. Consumers often complain at the ability to park easily in town centres as well as the cost of parking and over-zealous parking wardens.

Brexit may not be the cause of the demise of Britain's high streets. However it may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

John Major calls for Commons vote on second referendum

The former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major has launched a scathing attack on Brexit and said MPs should be given a free vote on whether to accept or reject the final Brexit deal.

The ex-prime minister argued that MPs must vote with their "own conscience" on whether the deal on offer will leave the UK better or worse off.

In a speech in London that comes at the lowest point so far in the 18-month withdrawal negotiations [BBC], Major argued parliament had a duty to consider the "wellbeing of the people", as well as the will of the people in the first referendum.

"This must be a decisive vote, in which parliament can accept or reject the final outcome; or send the negotiators back to seek improvements; or order a referendum," Major told an audience  at Somerset House in central London on Wednesday afternoon.

However, leading Tory backbencher and Brexit backer, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said Sir John had been wrong on Europe in the past "and he is getting it wrong again" [BBC / Guardian]

Here is his speech in full:

I would like to express my thanks to the Creative Industries Federation, Somerset House Trust, and Tech London Advocates for the opportunity to speak here today.
Brexit matters to our creative industries. They express our culture and values - but give so much more.

Nearly 10 per cent of our national workforce is in creative industries. They are often the young - and overwhelmingly in small units up and down the UK. Job growth outpaces every other part of industry - especially in the Midlands and Yorkshire.

Their exports total over £35 billion a year, but their added value to our country - both economically and socially - is incalculable… and far beyond cash. Our decision to leave the EU faces the creative industries with a variety of threats that could harm their future, both in financial and human terms.

So I am delighted to be their guest here this afternoon - to talk of Brexit.

For years, the European debate has been dominated by the fringes of opinion – by strong supporters of Europe or convinced opponents. But, as we approach Brexit, the voice of middle opinion mustn't be overlooked.

I am neither a Europhile nor a Eurosceptic. As Prime Minister, I said "No" to federal integration, "No" to the Euro Currency, and "No" to Schengen – which introduced free movement of people within the European Union but without proper control of external borders.

But I am a realist. I believe that to risk losing our trade advantages with the colossal market on our doorstep is to inflict economic self-harm on the British people.

Of course, the "will of the people" can't be ignored, but Parliament has a duty also to consider the "wellbeing of the people".

No-one voted for higher prices and poorer public services, but that is what they may get. The emerging evidence suggests Brexit will hurt most those who have least. Neither Parliament nor Government wish to see that.

The "will of the people" - so often summoned up when sound argument is absent - was supported by only 37 per cent of the electorate. Sixty-three per cent voted either in favour of membership - or did not vote at all.

There was a majority for Brexit, but there was no overwhelming mandate to ignore the reservations of 16 million voters, who believe it will be a harmful change of direction for our country.

Brexit has been the most divisive issue of my lifetime. It has divided not only the four nations of our UK, but regions within them. It has divided political parties; political colleagues; families; friends - and the young from the old.

We have to heal those divisions. They have been made worse by the character of the Brexit debate with its intolerance, its bullying, and its name-calling. I welcome rigorous debate - but there must be respect for differing views that are honestly held.

In this debate there are no "remoaners", no "mutineers", no "enemies of the people" - just voices setting out what they believe is right for our country.

In recent weeks, the idea has gained ground that Brexit won't be too bad; that we will all get through it; that we're doing better than expected - and all will be well.

Of course we will get through it: life as we know it won't come to an end. We are too resourceful and talented a nation for that. But our nation is owed a frank assessment of what leaving Europe may mean - for now and the future.

I fear we will be weaker and less prosperous - as a country and as individuals. And - although it grieves me to admit it - our divorce from Europe will diminish our international stature. Indeed, it already has.

For decades, we British have super-charged our influence around the world by our closeness to the US (which policy divisions are lessening); and our membership of the EU (which we are abandoning).

As a result, we are already becoming a lesser actor. No one - Leaver or Remainer - can welcome that.

We are all urged to be "patriotic" and get behind Brexit. But it is precisely because I am patriotic that I oppose it.

I want my Country to be influential, not isolated; committed, not cut-off; a leading participant, not a bystander.

I want us to be richer, not poorer. Yet every serious international body, including the IMF, the OECD, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research – as well as Nobel prize-winners – forecast we will be poorer outside the EU.

Such forecasts could be wrong, but to dismiss them out of hand is reckless.

Our own Government has assessed our post-Brexit position upon three separate criteria: that we stay in the Single Market; or reach a trade deal with Europe; or fail to do so.

Each option shows us to be worse off: and disastrously so with no trade deal at all. And the poorest regions will be hurt the most.

If, as negotiations proceed, this analysis appears to be correct, that cannot be brushed aside. I know of no precedent for any Government enacting a policy that will make both our country and our people poorer. Once that is apparent, the Government must change course.

Meanwhile, we are yet again told all will be well. Certainly, the recent fall in the value of Sterling has temporarily boosted our exports. The strength of the world economy may even increase our forecast growth this year.

But this sweet spot is artificial. It won't last. Prosperity isn't built on devaluation of the currency. More exports on the back of other countries' economic growth is not a secure position.

The UK has been at the very top of European growth.

We are now the laggard at the bottom. We have become the slowest of the world's big economies, even before we surrender the familiar advantages of the Single Market.

Our negotiations, so far, have not always been sure-footed. Some agreements have been reached but, in many areas, only because the UK has given ground.

Our determination to negotiate the divorce bill and a new trade deal at the same time was going to be "the fight of the summer" - but instead became an immediate British retreat.

There was to be a "points based" immigration system. There isn't, and there won't be.

We were to become the "Singapore of the North". No more: we have retreated from a policy of lower taxes and de-regulation.

No transition period was going to be needed. But we have now asked for one - during which we will accept new EU rules, ECJ jurisdiction, and free movement of people.

I don't say this to be critical. I do so to illustrate that unrealistic aspirations are usually followed by retreat. That is a lesson for the negotiations to come.

They will be the most difficult any Government has faced. Our aims have to be realistic. I am not sure they yet are.

We simply cannot move forward with leaving the EU, the Single Market, the Customs Union and the ECJ, whilst at the same time expecting à la carte, beneficial-to-Britain, bespoke entrance to the European market. It is just not credible.

A willingness to compromise is essential. If either side - the UK or the EU - is too inflexible, too unbending, too wedded to what they won't do - then the negotiations will fail.

The very essence of negotiation involves both "give" and "take". But there are always "red lines" that neither side wishes to cross. In successful negotiations those "red lines" are traded for concessions.

If our "red lines" are held to be inviolable, the likelihood of no deal - or a poor deal - increases. Every time we close off options prematurely, this encourages the EU to do the same – and that is not in our British interest.

A good Brexit - for Britain - will protect our trade advantages, and enable us to:

  • continue to sell our goods and services without disruption

  • import and export food without barriers and extra cost

  • staff our hospitals, universities and businesses with the skills we need – where we most need them

  • be part of the cutting edge of European research, in which British brains and skills lead the way

  • continue with the over 40 FTAs we have with countries only as a result of our membership of the EU

A bad Brexit - for Britain - will surrender these, and other, advantages. For the moment, our self-imposed "red lines" have boxed the Government into a corner.

They are so tilted to ultra Brexit opinion, even the Cabinet cannot agree them – and a majority in both Houses of Parliament oppose them. If maintained in full, it will be impossible to reach a favourable trade outcome.

Alarmed at the negotiations so far, the financial sector, businesses, and our academic institutions, are pleading for commonsense policy to serve the national interest and now - fearful they may not get it - are making their own preparations for the future.

Japanese car-makers warn they could close operations in Britain unless we maintain free access to the EU. That would be heart-breaking for many people in Sunderland or Swindon or South Wales.

This isn't "Project Fear" revisited, it is "Project Know Your History".

Any doubters should consult the former employees of factories, now closed, in Bridgend, Port Talbot and Newport, where jobs were lost and families suffered. In 1991, employment by Japanese firms in Wales was about 17,000 people: today, it is 2,000. If free access to Europe is lost – that scale of impact, across the UK, could lose 125,000 Japanese jobs.

Over many years, the Conservative Party has understood the concerns of business. Not over Brexit, it seems.

Across the United Kingdom - businesses are expressing their wish to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union. But "No", say the Government's "red lines".

Businesses wish to have the freedom to employ foreign skills. "No", say the Government's "red lines".

Business and academia wish to welcome foreign students to our universities and - as they rise to influence in their own countries - we then have willing partners in politics and business for decades to come. "No", say the Government's "red lines".

This is not only grand folly. It's also bad politics. The national interest must always be above the Party interest, but my Party should beware. It is only fear of Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell that prevents a haemorrhage of business support.

Without the comprehensive trade deal the Prime Minister seeks, we risk economic divorce from the EU, and the chill embrace of a "hard" Brexit with WTO rules.

Leading Brexit supporters believe there is nothing to fear from losing our special access to the Single Market.

But that is profoundly wrong. Swapping the Single Market for WTO rules would mean our exports facing the EU external tariff, as well as hidden non-tariff barriers that could be adjusted to our disadvantage at any time.

A Minister has speculated we might face tariffs of three per cent. Not so.

It is more likely that we will face tariffs on cars (10 per cent), food (14 per cent), drinks (20 per cent), and dairy products (36 per cent). Even if a successful negotiation were to halve these tariffs, our exports would still be much more expensive to sell – and this would apply far beyond agriculture and the motor industry.

And if, in retaliation, the UK were to impose tariffs on imports, this would result in higher prices for the British consumer.

If we and the EU agreed to impose nil tariffs - as some have speculated - WTO rules mean we would both have to offer nil tariffs to all countries. That isn't going to happen.

This is all very complex. But it is crucial. And none of it has yet been properly explained to the British people.

There have been attempts to reassure business by claiming that other nations trade with the EU on purely WTO terms. That statement is simply wrong.

China, the US and Japan all have side agreements with Europe on standards, customs cooperation, mutual recognition and investment. These economic giants did so to protect their own trade even though none of them is exposed as we are - still half our entire exports go to Europe.

Ultra Brexit opinion is impatient to be free of European relationships; to become - in their words - a "global player", "sovereign", "in control". I believe they are deceiving themselves and, as a result, they are misleading the British people.

Before the modern world took shape - their ambition would have been credible. But the world has changed, the global market has taken root, and - if we are to care for the people of our nation - philosophical fantasies must give way to national self-interest. We cannot prepare for tomorrow by living in the world of yesterday.

I don't doubt the convictions of those who long for the seductive ambition of British exceptionalism. But these sentiments are out-of- date and, in today's world, wrong.

It is not my purpose to stir controversy, but the truth must be spoken. The ultra Brexiteers have been mistaken - wrong - in nearly all they have said or promised to the British people.

The promises of more hospitals, more schools, lower taxes, more money for transport were electioneering fantasy. The £350 million a week for the NHS was a ridiculous phantom: the reality is if our economy weakens - as is forecast - there will not only be less money for the NHS, but for all our public services.

We were told that nobody was threatening our place in the Single Market. That tune has changed.

We were told that a trade deal with the EU would be easy to get. Wrong again: it was never going to be easy, and we are still not sure what outcome will be achieved.

We were told "Europe can whistle for their money" and we would not pay a penny in exit costs. Wrong again. Europe didn't even have to purse her lips before we agreed to pay £40 billion to meet legitimate liabilities.

I could go on. But suffice to say that every one of the Brexit promises is - to quote Henry Fielding - "a very wholesome and comfortable doctrine to which (there is) but one objection: namely, that it is not true.".

People should pause and reflect: if the Brexit leaders were wrong in what they said so enthusiastically before - are they not likely to be wrong in what they say now?

The Prime Minister is seeking a "frictionless" border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. She is absolutely right to do so. This is a promise that must be honoured, and I wish her well. But, so far, this has not materialised - nor, I fear, will it - unless we stay in "a" or "the" Customs Union.

Those of us who warned of the risks Brexit would bring to the still fragile Peace Process were told at the time that we "didn't understand Irish politics". But it seems we understood it better than our critics. We need a policy to protect the Good Friday Agreement - and we need one urgently. And it is our responsibility to find one - not the European Union.

Although the referendum was advisory only, the result gave the Government the obligation to negotiate a Brexit. But not any Brexit; not at all costs; and certainly not on any terms. The true remit can only be to agree a Brexit that honours the promises made in the referendum.

But, so far, the promises have not been met and, probably, cannot be met.

Many electors know they were misled: many more are beginning to realise it. So, the electorate has every right to reconsider their decision. Meanwhile, our options become ever narrower.

We have ruled out full membership. Ruled out the Single Market and Customs Union. Ruled out joining the European Economic Area. Dismissed talk of joining EFTA.

A Norway deal won't do. Nor will a Swiss deal. Nor a Ukraine deal; a Turkey deal; or a South Korea deal. No, to them all, say the Government's "red lines".

So, little is left, except for "cherry picking" - which the EU rejects. Or a comprehensive deal - which will be very hard, if not impossible, to get. So compromise it must be - or no deal at all.

It is now widely accepted that "no deal" would be the worst possible outcome. The compromise must, therefore, focus around our accepting Single Market rules (as Norway does) and paying for access.

Or an enhanced "Canada deal" - and it would need to be enhanced a very great deal to be attractive. The Canada deal largely concerns goods - whereas the bulk of UK exports are services.

But what we achieve to protect our interests may depend on what we concede: it is, as I say, "give" and "take". If our "red lines" dissolve, our options enlarge.

Our minimum objective must be that "deep, special and bespoke" trade deal the Prime Minister has talked about.

So, some unpalatable decisions lie ahead - with the cast-iron certainty that the extreme and unbending Brexit lobby will cry "betrayal" at any compromise. But it is Parliament, not a small minority, that must decide our policy.

I spoke earlier of the "divisiveness" of Brexit across our United Kingdom. But, in due time, the debate will end and - when it does - we need the highest possible level of public acceptance for the outcome. It is in no one's interest for the bitterness and division to linger on. I see only one way to achieve this.

It is already agreed that Parliament must pass legislation giving effect to the deal. A "meaningful vote" has been promised. This must be a decisive vote, in which Parliament can accept or reject the final outcome; or send the negotiators back to seek improvements; or order a referendum.

That is what Parliamentary sovereignty means. But, to minimise divisions in our country - and between and within the political parties - I believe the Government should take a brave and bold decision. They should invite Parliament to accept or reject the final outcome on a free vote.

I know the instinct of every Government is to oppose "free votes", but the Government should weigh the advantages of having one very carefully. It may be in their interest to do so. There are some very practical reasons in favour of it.

Brexit is a unique decision. It will affect the lives of the British people for generations to come. If it flops - there will be the most terrible backlash.

If it is whipped through Parliament, when the public are so divided, voters will know who to blame if they end up poorer and weaker. So, both democracy and prudence suggest a free vote.

The deep divisions in our nation are more likely to be healed by a Brexit freely approved by Parliament, than a Brexit forced through Parliament at the behest of a minority of convinced opponents of Europe.

A free vote would better reflect the reality that - for every 17 voters who opted for Brexit - 16 opted to remain in the EU.

But, regardless of whether a free vote is offered, Parliamentarians must decide the issue on the basis of their own conscience. Upon whether, in mature judgement, they really do believe that the outcome of the negotiations is in the best interests of the people they serve.

By 2021, after the likely two-year transition, it will be five years since the 2016 referendum. The electorate will have changed. Some voters will have left us. Many new voters will be enfranchised. Others may have changed their mind.

No-one can truly know what "the will of the people" may then be. So, let Parliament decide. Or put the issue back to the people.

And what is true for the House of Commons must apply to the House of Lords. Peers must ignore any noises off, and be guided by their intellect and their conscience.

I have been a Conservative all my life. I don't enjoy being out of step with many in my Party and take no pleasure in speaking out as I am today. But it's as necessary to speak truth to the people, as to power.

Leaving Europe is an issue so far-reaching, so permanent, so over-arching that it will have an impact on all our lives - most especially on the young and the future. With only 12 months to go, we need answers, not aspirations.

This is far more than just a Party issue. It's about the future of our United Kingdom, and everyone who lives in it. That is what matters. That is why I'm here today.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Britain will suffer after Brexit govt report says - but doubters remain

Brexit is less than 14 months away and yet still no post-Brexit transitional arrangement or EU-UK trade deal is even under discussion, let alone agreed.

And hardly a day goes by when another negative headline emerges concerning Britain's post-Brexit future.

Yet the government and the right-wing press continue to claim that Britain will prosper after it leaves the EU.

Bleak outlook

This week a leaked report suggested that any sort of Brexit, hard or soft, would result in an economic hit ranging from a loss of 1 to 8% of GDP.

However, both the Tory party and the pro-Brexit press dismissed the report claiming that it was unfinished.

The paper, entitled EU Exit Analysis — Cross Whitehall Briefing and dated January 2018, looked at three of the most plausible Brexit scenarios. It was obtained by the online news and entertainment company BuzzFeed. The analysis suggests a "no deal" scenario, under which Britain reverts to World Trade Organization rules, would reduce UK economic growth by 8 percentage points over the next 15 years compared with current forecasts.

But even a so-called soft Brexit would result in a lower growth by 2 percentage points.

According to the leaked government analysis Britain will be left worse off under all economic scenarios after Brexit, with financial services, manufacturing and retailing among the industries worst hit [BBC / FT].

However, many more sectors are likely to be hit by Brexit.

Agricultural concerns

Given that farming is a long-term business and its viability is currently governed by the EU's international trade arrangements, UK farmers face much financial risks and uncertainty.

One example of the difficulties ahead concerns the threat to the UK organic cheese Kingdom Cheddar, which is currently exported to the US.

Kingdom is made from organic milk produced by the 265 UK dairy farmers in the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative (OMSCo).

In 2015, under US-EU trade arrangements, OMSCo qualified to export its premium organic cheese to the US. It took OMSCo eight years to develop the Kingdom band, it's dairy farmer members having a substantially altered of their farming practices to meet US standards (including using fewer antibiotics and improving animal welfare).

The arrangement of that allows Kingdom to be sold in the US, however, is between the EU and the US. OMSCo pointed out last October that unless an "equivalence" agreement on organic farming standards was signed between the UK and the US by the end of 2017 it would stop production of Kingdom at the end of December.

"We cannot take the risk of producing a niche market product that, given its 18-month a production cycle may not be able to be sold after brexit," OMSCo Chairman Nicholas sapphire said.

There has been no official announcement either from OMSCo or Kingdom Cheese as to whether they have indeed stopped production. Nonetheless the uncertainty remains.

Bleating about Brexit

OMSCo is unique in the UK in exporting a high-volume premium organic cheese to the US; but given agriculture's long production cycle, all UK food exports face the same risk as disruption as the clock ticks down.

And there are concerns in other quarters such as the meat industry.

Last autumn, for instance, UK sheep farmers had to make the difficult decision about whether to retain millions of ewe lambs for breeding or send them for slaughter as fat lambs.

If kept for breeding, most will not be put to the ram until autumn 2018 and so won't give birth to their first lambs until spring 2019 - just as Britain leaves the EU.

About 40% of all UK lamb production is currently exported to the EU so, unless Britain keeps access to the single market, those exports will face an EU sheep meat tariff of £2,689 a tonne. The price UK farmers receive for their animals will collapse

The risks are similar for cattle farmers, with the production cycle of beef animals even longer than that for lamb; and the same applies to arable crops being shown across the UK this autumn. Kept in store many will not be marketed until after the UK leaves the EU.

No one knows yet what individual farmers will decide to do to minimise the risks as Brexit approaches, but one thing seems sure: the UK's food trade deficit will keep growing. It rose by £800m in the three months to July 2017 and now stands at a staggering £34.7bn for the full year.

Dreams and unicorns

Many voters for Brexit continue to talk of sunny uplands following Britain's departure from the EU.

But there has been little if any good news since the referendum. Indeed the very opposite is true.

Almost immediately after the Brexit vote China stocks fell over 1% [Reuters] and the pound plunged to a 31 year low [Independent / Independent ]

Just a day or so later banks began to move some operations out of Britain [FT] as more than $2 trillion was wiped off markets and Moody lowered the UK credit rating [Guardian].

Soon after the S&P slashed the UK's growth forecast [FT].

At the time such predictions were again dismissed by Brexiters. But UK growth is now at its lowest rate in 4 years.

Slowing growth & rising inflation

UK economic growth is now expected to slow even more in the next few months with high inflation, weak consumer confidence and Brexit further discouraging consumer spending [Guardian].

There has been no recession but only a month after the referendum the Bank of England warned that Brexit risks had begun to crystallise [BBC]. Indeed it was only the BoE governor Mark Carney's interventions that mitigated what might otherwise have been a disaster.

But industry has become increasingly worried with many holding back on investment.

In July 2016 Standard Life suspended trading in UK property funds [BBC], Sainsbury's announced the closure of its Netto stores [BBC] and Siemens put its UK wind power plans on hold in response to Brexit [Renewable Energy Magazine].

As the pound continued to stumble prices began to rise and manufacturing slowed.

Dell increased prices [Register] while UK manufacturing as a whole fell sharply [FT].

But in August the BCC cut the UK growth forecast even further [BBC] as the Brexit secretary David Davis suggested that the UK might crash out of the EU without a deal [Guardian].

There was no good news in September either as the OECD halved the UK growth forecast due to EU referendum vote saying that it expected a 1% GDP growth in 2017, down from the 2% forecast it made in June 2016 [Independent]. 

The figure was slightly up on these forecast but were hardly anything to celebrate.

In January 2018 it was reported that the UK was estimated to have grown by 1.8% in 2017, down from 2016's 1.9% rate and the weakest expansion since 2012 [Independent].

Relocations and job losses

As September ended the London Stock Exchange warned that 100,000 jobs in the city were at risk [Guardian]. But of course such predictions were once again dismissed by Brexiters as more 'project fear'.

And while there was no sign of a mass exodus there were signs that some businesses were rethinking their future. MG ended production in the UK and moved to China [BBC] whilst other firms ceased production altogether [BBC].

By the end of the year there was no Christmas cheer. S&P had predicted a hard Brexit and handed out a fresh downgrade for the UK [Guardian].

The Chancellor meanwhile announced that Brexit would blow a £59 billion hole in public finances [Guardian]. And as he gave this grim news news figures emerged which showed that UK manufacturing was slowing [BBC].

Price hikes

Champagne may well have popped as Britain entered 2017 but while fireworks soared into the sky so did the price of everyday commodities on supermarket shelves [Guardian]. Other manufacturers made other changes to keep prices the same, such as Toblorone which became more gappy [Guardian].

The slow exodus continued into the new year as HSBC and UBS each announced the shift of 1,000 jobs from UK in another Brexit blow to London [Reuters].

Meanwhile UK inflation rose to its highest level since June 2014 [BBC] and there were predictions it could rise to 3% by mid 2017 [FXS].

Again such predictions were dismissed by many in the Brexit camp, though as the year came to an end inflation had hit 3.1%.

Manufacturing slows

Month by month UK manufacturing figures showed declines, companies announced profit losses - due to a weaker sterling, and inflation continued to rise.

In September 2017 UK output once again fell [Reuters].

Companies weren't the only ones beginning to relocate. Seasonal workers from Europe were in short supply in 2017 and food was reportedly rotting in fields with fewer workers to pick them [Guardian]. There were also shortfalls in hospitals as the NHS saw a 96% drop in EU nurses registering to work in Britain since the vote [Guardian].

Reports later in the year pointed to Goldman Sachs setting up two hubs in Europe post Brexit [Reuters].

That was not the only loss to the UK as London then lost two EU agencies to Paris and Amsterdam in another Brexit relocation [Guardian]. 

Again there were few early Christmas presents as late November only brought more bad news with the announcement that Britain was now the 6th largest economy, falling one place behind France [CNN].

Perhaps it was hardly surprising as UK car sales in October showing a seven month decline in October [Reuters] and with Ford's Europe president suggesting the firm could relocate post-Brexit [Verdict].

Indeed the UK economy had gone from top of the G7 leaderboard to almost bottom since the Brexit vote. "We have not done as well in the short term as we would have done if the vote had gone the other way,' Mark Carney said in November 2017 [Independent]

Heading for a fall

And with projections not looking good for 2019 and further downgrades, Britain looks certain to head off a cliff [Independent].  

Whatever type of Brexit is decided upon Britain is heading towards a cliff edge. The only question is how high the cliff is.

As many Remainers persistently maintain there is only one good Brexit, and that is no Brexit. But halting the juggernaut as it careers towards the cliff is easier said than done.

As the hard reality sets in post-Brexit it may be too late to have buyers remorse. Britain may well have burned too many bridges to rejoin the EU and may well find itself out in the cold when it comes to world trade.

tvnewswatch, London, UK  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Brexit makes Christmas at least 20% dearer

There are many Brexiters who will insist that there has been no discernible effect on Britain's economy because of the EU referendum vote. It is true to say the Brexit effect has been a slow burn. But nonetheless there have definitely been repercussions. And the repercussions are manifesting themselves with higher shopping bills.

Weak pound & fewer migrant workers

The pound has barely lifted after its dramatic drop the day after the referendum and remains more than 13% down from its pre-Brexit levels.

While there hasn't been a mass exodus from the City or from Britain's ailing manufacturing industry [Reuters] there have been some departures and concerns raised by others  [Verdict]. And while some firms talk of leaving, many migrant workers are failing to turn up in the numbers seen before the EU referendum.

There were many Leave voters driven by the issue of immigration. However the situation that has resulted from the vote brings one's mind to focus on that age old adage 'be careful what you wish for'.

An exodus of many EU migrants and a drop in numbers coming to Britain to work has resulted in shortfalls in the NHS and also in Britain's farms where there are reports that vegetables are now rotting in the fields.

Farmers & NHS see shortfall in workers

In June this year it was reported that there had been a 96% drop in EU nurses registering to work in Britain since the Brexit vote. Official figures showed only 46 nurses came to work in the UK in April, down from 1,304 in July the previous year [Guardian / BBC].

The effect in the NHS has yet to be seen. But a fall in the number of migrant workers in the farming industry is already having a marked effect. One survey conducted for the National Farmers' Union revealed that there was a 29% shortfall in seasonal workers for horticulture businesses in September 2017, raising the average shortfall for the year to 11%.

The survey also showed that the number of returning workers to farms, a critical source of the workforce, fell to 16%, its lowest level all year. The returnee rate had been as high as 65% in January.

"The perception from overseas is we are xenophobic, we're racist, and the pound has plummeted too. We've gone with Brexit and that makes us look unfriendly," says John Hardman, director of Hops Labour Solutions, which supplies about 12,000 workers a year to food-growers, those numbers are dropping fast [FT / EDP24 / Farming UK / Guardian].

Moulding fruit & rotting vegetables

And as the numbers of workers drop, so the yield from British farms drops too. And there are reportedly already shortages of main staples in the shops.

According to some reports there are already shortages of traditional festive items such as parsnips, Brussels sprouts and even potatoes [Daily Star].

Last year some papers joked over the price of chocolate coins that are often bought as stocking fillers [Mirror / Coventry Telegraph].

However a year on the low value in sterling and a decline in seasonal workers within the agricultural industry has brought less amusing anecdotes.

Inflation & prices rising

Inflation is now running at 3% and shoppers are beginning to notice. Official figures show prices were up by 4.2% in October compared to a the previous year [Guardian].

But this is far from a true picture. In fact some products have increased by around 30% with butter having increased some 40% [Guardian].

A comparison of prices on a selection of products at a Sainsbury's supermarket over the course of a year is just one small indicator as to how much prices have risen.

President butter has increased from £1.50 to £2.00, a 30% increase since October 2016. Meanwhile, fish has significantly increased in price. Even home produced Scottish salmon has jumped from around £3.50 to £4.50 for a 2 fillet pack. That's a 28% hike.

Other big price jumps have been seen in breakfast cereals. A 600g pack of Cheerios has risen from £2.95 to £3.50, an 18% price increase. Meanwhile a jar of Sainsbury's own brand olives £0.85 in October 2016, is now £1.00, a 17.6% increase. A pack of tagliatelle has only edged up from £0.75 to £0.85, but is still a 13% increase. Broccoli was £1.10 in October 2016 and is now £1.30 a kilo, an 18% increase.

Some increases have been less dramatic. For example Andrex 16 pack toilet rolls were £6.00 in 2016 and are now £6.50, an 8% increase.

Main staples have either remained the same or only risen slightly. Eggs have increased with a 15 pack edging up some 2.5% from £2 to £2.05. Meanwhile a 2.272 litre bottle of milk is still a pound as is a 500g carton of Sainsbury's own brand Greek style yoghurt.

Family shop £1,000 more per year

But overall, prices have risen between 10% and 30%. A few pennies here and there may not be immediately noticeable. However, for weekly shops that were once £100 consumers are now spending anywhere between £440 and £520 a month. Over the course of a year that could equate to between £480 and £1,440 extra being spent by families just on shopping.

For more well off families the cut backs will simply be less bottles of wine and chocolate treats. But for those already struggling the fall in Sterling is going to bite, and bite hard.

This is only the beginning as many retailers have held back on passing on costs to consumers. Brexit, and particularly a hard Brexit, will bite very hard indeed in the months to come.

Perhaps the only advice is to stock up on the non-perishables whenever there's a good offer.

A bleak Christmas & a bleaker new year

But even good offers have failed to excite consumers. This year's Black Friday was still a bonanza for retailers, but early indications appeared to show consumers were far more savvy. Online retailers also did better than the traditional high street stores [BBC / Bloomberg].

As purse strings tighten more and more people will begin to question the so-called bargains they are being offered [Independent].

Christmas 2017 is certain to be at least 20-30% more expensive. The annual yuletide food survey by Good Housekeeping magazine found that the cost of the cheapest set-piece meal on Christmas Day – for 8 people and including 11 ingredients from turkey to fresh vegetables and cranberry sauce – had risen from £19.82 to £23.53, or from £2.48 a head to £2.94.

The Good Housekeeping basket comprises of a whole turkey weighing at least 3.5kg, at least 880g each of potatoes, sprouts, carrots and parsnips; stuffing mix; a jar of cranberry sauce; at least 900g of Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, at least eight mince pies and a jar of brandy butter [Guardian].

There might be some savings to be made by hitting Lidl or Aldi over Sainsbury, Waitrose or M&S, but even the budget stores have increased their prices.

This week the Brexit secretary David Davis finally handed over heavily redacted Brexit assessment papers to the select committee which drew ire and condemnation from MPs who suggest the government was attempting to cover up the impending disaster that is to come with Brexit [Guardian / BBC].

However, one does not need to see the impact assessments to get a indication of how disastrous Brexit will be. One only needs to check one's shopping receipts.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The pros & cons of the electric vehicle's future

Pictured: A Renault Twizy, a Renault Zoe and a UK charging point

The war on petrol and diesel cars has been simmering for some time. Diesel vehicles in particular have been singled out with some cities around the world restricting their use.

But whilst few would argue that vehicles running on petrol or diesel are polluting, the electric vehicle alternative has yet to tick all the boxes as far as those wanting to buy a new car.

The biggest issue for many is the range of the vehicle and the perceived inconvenience of charging up their vehicle. Technology is certainly improving and some electric vehicles, or EVs, can cover more than 400 km. But there are still many drawbacks. 

Drawbacks & cost

The first major issue for many people is one of initial cost. There are very few second hand electric vehicles on the market and thus the only real option is to buy new.

The Renault Twizy [pictured above] is probably not what most people envisage themselves driving in. While it is certainly nicely designed it only has capacity to carry two people, and the passenger will find themselves rather squashed behind the driver. The vehicle has a range of 100 km though this can drop to around half in some conditions. With a top speed of 80 km/h [50 mph] the vehicle is perhaps best suited to urban driving though the cost, ranging from £6,990 to £7,400 is likely to put off many [Renault].

Due to the very small luggage space the vehicle certainly wouldn't be much good for to take a weekend or summer break unless one is travelling very light indeed. In fact there's no boot to speak of. Instead a 31-litre lockable storage cubby exists under the rear seat that's large enough to carry some small bags, a laptop or a modest amount of shopping.

Another off-putting factor is the fact the price does not include the battery pack. Instead owners have to lease the battery from Renault for a £45 monthly fee, although it does include roadside assistance and a battery replacement guarantee.

Perhaps a more practical EV is the Renault Zoe [picture above] which retails at £18,045 up to £23,645, although currently UK buyers get a so-call Plug-in Car Grant or PiCG which reduces the cost.

However, the PiCG which gives buyers up to £4,500 towards the cleanest new cars, will only run until March 2018 [Guardian].

The Zoe has a range of over 210 km [130 miles] but like Twizy owners, one still has to lease the battery which costs between £49 and £110 per month depending on the length of the agreement and annual mileage [Top 5 EVs].


Recharging takes 3 to 4 hours which could prove inconvenient for long journeys. In fact aside the issues of cost and leasing batteries, charging times and range is the crucial issue for most people.

Short hops around town is not an issue. It's those journeys to the airport or the weekend trip to the coast or the drive to France on a camping trek which create the challenges.

From one side of London to the other via the M25 is around 100 km [60 miles]. So a return trip from the Essex border to Heathrow Airport could be achieved in a Renault Zoe with 16 km [10 miles] to spare. But ideally one would really want to top up before that return journey.

There are only 4 electric car charging points available at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 Short Stay Car Park and herein lies another issue. There are some compatibility issues, but the biggest issue here is numbers. If there is no free space one could very well be left stranded on the M25 without juice. Given there are only 4 charging points, finding them might also prove to be a challenge.

There is also the cost. While charging is often free, or very cheap, parking at Heathrow for 2 or 3 hours in order to charge up one's car would likely set one back around £14.

Costs and benefits

That said, £14 is considerably cheaper than the cost of petrol or diesel which would have been burned up in a conventional vehicle.

Currently there is no VED [Vehicle Excise Duty] payable on pure EVs worth less than £40,000. So that's a potential saving of anything up to £300 a year.

But of course even EV owners have to pay out for an MoT and insurance and withe monthly cost of battery easing with many EVs the running cost per year can easily soar towards £1,000 before driving anywhere.

This cost is similar for most vehicle owners however. But unlike conventional car owners, EV drivers do get some perks. Many areas offer discounted parking, such as Westminster in central London where EV drivers need only pay for just 10 minutes on street pay-to-park bays and park for the maximum prescribed period. In some areas a free resident's parking permit for residents is offered for owners of an eco or electric vehicle. And EV drivers do not have to pay London's congestion charge.

An EV for everyone

So there are some advantages and disadvantages. And there is an EV for pretty much for everyone.

There is the tiny Twizy which is great as a little city runabout. There is the Renault Zoe and the arguably better Nissan Leaf which both offer comfort and space, and could be considered small family cars.

And there are even electric SUVs in the pipeline in the coming years [Business Insider / Autocar]. 

Currently there are few electric SUVs, but the Kia Soul EV is certainly a vehicle that makes the idea of driving an electric vehicle a little more cool. However with a range of only 150 km [93 miles] in optimum conditions there are serious issues to be considered as regards charging.

Charging & Range

Indeed, it is charging that is the biggest problem when it comes to EVs. Whether a vehicle has a 600 km range or a 150 km range there needs to be an improved infrastructure, not just across Britain but across Europe and around the globe.

Not everyone wants or can afford a second vehicle. So in order to persuade new car buyers to buy an all electric vehicle the infrastructure needs to improve.

Payment issues

Whilst there are many charging points across the country not all are rapid chargers. Some are free, some require registration and others require payment through an app or via an online account. So without preplanning one can encounter issues concerning payment even before plugging in. In fact this, and non-working machines, is perhaps one of the biggest problems [YouTube].

Anyone with a regular gas guzzler can drive into a service station, fill up and pay with cash, debit or credit card, or even Apple or Android Pay in many UK locations. But for many EV charging stations one has register, purchase special cards and top-up online.

The issue could be solved simply giving users the option to pay with a debit or credit card with perhaps the offer of benefits to those who sign-up to the specific scheme.

Plug compatibility & Infrastructure

Then there's plug compatibility though for the most part this is not really a major issue since most charging stations offer the two main types [YouTube / EVObsession].

For those with the extra cash for a second vehicle an EV is definitely the way to go. But for a primary vehicle there are, at present, too many drawbacks.

Fast charging stations need to be at every petrol station, supermarket and town centre car parks as well as on-street parking locations. And this roll out needs to be Europe wide.

A London to Bournemouth trip might be feasible at present, but it would be a brave soul attempting a European tour with an EV.

While there are some EV charging stations dotted across France, they are few and far between. The same is true of Spain and Portugal where one can easily find oneself travelling for hundreds of kilometres without seeing even a petrol station let alone an electric charging station [Charging points map]

A greener future

Today the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced new efforts to clean up the air with further  measures targeting diesel vehicles whilst putting forward financial incentives and pledges to build an increased EV charging infrastructure with a promised £400 million fund [Business Green / Huffington Post].

But there are two major challenges that have yet to be properly addressed when it comes to electric vehicles. The first is the drain on the national grid as more people adopt the new technology.

Electric vehicles are here; and they are here to stay.  But by 2050 there could be anything from 7 to 26 million on the road. And the National Grid in the UK has already questioned whether it will be able to cope with demand [National Grid PDF / Guardian]  

The grid recently warned that, by 2030, electric cars could require 3.5-8GW of additional capacity, on top of the current peak demand of 60GW [Guardian].

When the lithium runs out

But there's another perhaps far more pressing issue, and that concerns the battery that powers the vehicle itself.

Currently most EVs use Lithium Ion batteries. However, there are only finite Lithium resources.

It has been estimated that should EVs really take off there is only enough lithium to supply the market for around 17 years.

Back in 2015 the US Geological Survey produced a reserves estimate of lithium which concluded that the world has enough known reserves for about 365 years of current global production of about 37,000 tonnes per year [USGS PDF]. 

But of course, that did not take into account possible future use [Green Tech Media / Bloomberg].

There is a revolution taking place already in that many people are beginning to accept the new technology. No longer are are electric vehicles geeky, the Twizy perhaps being only one exception. The range is improving and along with it the charging station infrastructure, if a little slowly. But there needs to be a another revolution in battery technology otherwise the the electric car will soon come to a grinding halt [Guardian].

tvnewswatch, London, UK