It continues to be a tortuous divorce from the EU, with a disgruntled Parliament breaking up for the Whitsun Recess demanding answers about the timing and scope for real debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill. Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, was tetchy too, responding with a strong rebuke to the media that “Parliament sets its own timetable!”. This after the rumour mill went into motion following comment from Sky Media Political Editor Faisal Islam that Parliament would debate the Bill on 11 June – a date which was in fact subsequently quietly confirmed!
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been batting away continuing cabinet tension and criticism of him over Brexit by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for not being a “team player”, after Boris cited Cabinet’s Brexit trade plans as “crazy” and “bureaucratic” in his typically ebullient and indefatigable, if rather abrupt, style. He wants his own private jet and thinks one decked in union flag colours can assist in trade missions. But it’s going to take more than this to secure the compensatory non-EU trade deals post-Brexit that Britain will need in lieu of the anticipated lost Single Market trade.
Cabinet has revealed it has called in the lawyers to look at different possible custom union models. Terms such as “max fac” now abound, referring to the high-whiz tech solution to police the border with Northern Ireland instead of the EU’s suggested backdrop proposal for a hard border, which is so unpalatable to the UK Government. What does it all mean and how will it pan out?
The economy continues to bump along and retail woes continue as Marks & Spencer recently announced further store closures, closely followed by Homebase. Watch closely for the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) monthly retail sales figures on 14 June.
Pundits are also watching inflationary pressures. The Bank of England’s quarterly inflation statistics are published on 8 June, alongside production growth figures from the ONS and the British Chamber of Commerce.
The Halifax sets off the pack of published housing statistics, as per normal, on 7 June. This is followed by the ONS UK House Price Index on 13 June, UK Finance monthly mortgage lending statistics on 14 June, and the Markit Household Finances Index on 18 June. Given the rise in households renting in the UK, and the stark intergenerational wealth disparity dynamics at play here, ONS figures released on 13 June showing the state of private rentals will also be of interest.
The FCA Asset Management Conference takes place on 12 June. It’s a mere coincidence that this comes at the same time as the publication of the FOS Annual Review of personal finance disputes.
My Money Week kicks off in schools on 11 June. This is an ambitious money education programme of activities across schools in the UK. It’s just as well that the Government is doing something here to address money skills and financial literacy in Britain, with paid advice likely to remain out of the reach of many people now forced to make difficult decisions about Pensions Freedoms, housing, and other financial matters. Perhaps Artificial Intelligence (AI) will come to the rescue, as increasingly sophisticated robo-advice offerings come to the market?
New Tech order?
Perhaps tech – in the round – can offer salvation for post-Brexit Britain? The country’s pre-eminence in financial services fortunately extends to fintech, which remains vibrant, and the focus of much financial and capital markets activity recently. The adoption of a broad suite of technologies – such as digital identity (via biometrics and other forms of identification, which also neatly offers GDPR compliance solutions) and blockchain – can be transformative to Britain’s fortunes. The potentiality with blockchain goes well beyond the noise (and recent vicissitudes) of Bitcoin and other digital coin offerings, per se. Interestingly on crypto, Google is banning cryptocurrencies ads from the beginning of June.
Meanwhile, tech and data need to get their house in order, starting with the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which came into force on Friday 25 May, enshrining new rights for consumers plus greater obligations for businesses. There has been much confusion and not inconsiderable expense for businesses (although it has accorded the opportunity for some useful housekeeping perhaps). The Information Commissioner reported it has had some 60,000 phone calls this month seeking clarification on the new rules. Friday wasn’t actually a deadline, just the beginning of a new data privacy chapter.
The data ethics debate continues on the back of the Cambridge Analytica debacle, with a further uncomfortable hearing for Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, appearing recently in Paris. Zuckerberg was mullered by Guy Verhofstandt, a Belgian politician and member of the European Parliament who has served as the Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, who suggested Facebook might come to be viewed in history as a “digital monster”. Ouch!
Whilst Facebook may well survive and stand the test of time, the scandal – and the way the world has reacted to this invasive abuse of privacy and (inadvertent or otherwise) interference in democratic processes – will live long in the memory.
30 May 2018