Liam Fox is right – don’t be obsessed with signing free trade agreements at any price

In the rush to start free trade agreement negotiations after Brexit, few have paused to ask what it is the UK hopes to achieve from completed deals with the US, Australia and others. Meanwhile talks with the EU still seem to be seen through the prism of Brexit good or bad, more than any consideration of trade.

Some of the confusion comes in the name. Free trade agreements don’t deliver full free trade, they just deliver preferential terms compared to the WTO. Frequently these agreements are dominated by agriculture, as that’s where tariffs, regulatory barriers, and political interest are at their highest. Both the US and EU want trade agreements primarily to benefit their own agricultural sectors,…

If it comes to it, Britain must be prepared to use military force

Leaving aside the legality, morality or the timing of the US assassination of Iranian general Qassim Soleimani, the UK government needs to be fully prepared for the consequences. The regime in Tehran cannot afford not to retaliate, or risk losing status in the eyes of its various proxies around the Middle East.

One obvious response that has been threatened in the past by Gen Soleimani himself is to close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow opening to the Gulf through which one third of the world’s oil passes. Arguably the West’s failure to take tougher action after Iran attacked tankers last summer made them think they could get away with anything until President Trump drew the line.

Britain is…

Whitehall needs to splash the cash to get the experts Dominic Cummings wants

There has been a lot written since the election about Conservative plans for civil service reform, which has been boosted by Dominic Cummings’ blog yesterday on the need to diversify the talent pool in Government. 

As someone who has worked in four departments over 20 years, I have a lot of sympathy for what Cummings is trying to achieve: the areas that he lists are clear expertise gaps in some (though not all) parts of government. Arguably, decision-making in some areas needs to change. But it’s striking that much of the comment on the back of Cummings’ piece latches on to issues which are not unique to the civil service and also fails to appreciate the unique nature of government, the pressures…

It’s election eve… and Boris Johnson has had the craziest day of his whole campaign

Boris Johnson placed his crate on the front step, and knocked on the door. The camera crews waited expectantly. Dawn hadn’t yet broken, but the Tory leader was already up and about, primed for his first big photo op of the day: delivering the milk to an unsuspecting household in Guiseley, West Yorkshire.

Well, I say unsuspecting. Unfortunately, after greeting Mr Johnson, the woman who’d answered the door chirped, “I didn’t realise there were going to be this many people!” – which slightly weakened the impression that this was a spontaneous visit to a random member of the public. 

Oh well. A lesson for the next campaign: remember to set up an Autocue in the front garden. (“Good morning, Prime…

Fleeing the country would be an entirely rational response to a Labour victory

Whenever the Conservatives look likely to win an election, some celebrity has a tantrum and threatens to leave for Europe. They rarely do. Their histrionics are a performance, designed to show they are “nice” unlike those nasty Tories.

When they come back down to earth, they realise that there are few better places to live than Britain, that much of Europe is less liberal and more provincial, and that they are not, in fact, willing to uproot their families and upend their careers for the sake of making a bad point.

If Labour forms a government this week, it is another matter entirely. For millions of people, leaving the country will be the most rational thing they can do. And the crushing burden…

No pollster can be sure how this election will end

Much has been made of YouGov’s MRP poll predicting a Conservative majority of 68, which moved the money markets and has the political parties and media in a tizz.  Labour has already pivoted its entire election strategy to target Leave voters in the north in its wake.

MRP is a new methodology that YouGov used for the first time in a UK General election in 2017, which was ‘the only poll to correctly predict a hung Parliament’.  Yet YouGov’s prediction on the night before the election was: “Tories lead by seven points and set to increase majority”.  Err?  Well that was the result from another poll using a conventional methodology.  So, if I had conducted two polls with different predicted outcomes…

Hurrah for the British stiff upper lip – whether you’re born British or not 

I fear I’d be about as useful as a Bakewell tart in a London Bridge scenario, but it’s good to know there are still others out there who fight back 

Hurrah for Thomas Gray! He was driving his mini across London Bridge last Friday when he saw a terrorist being chased by some men with a fire extinguisher: he jumped out of his car and joined them as they pinned the fanatic to the ground. They stomped on Usman Khan’s wrists till he dropped his knives, then the police shot Khan dead. “One thought was going through my mind,” explained Mr Gray: “stop the dude. I’ve played rugby for most my life and the rule on and off the pitch is ‘one in, all in’.” What did he do after helping to save the day? “The…

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson tried to woo big business. It didn’t quite work out

It’s often said that big business is out of touch with the views of ordinary people. On one issue, however, the corporate fatcat and the man in the street appear to be in perfect harmony. 

When it comes to this election, both are utterly bored out of their brains.

Today in London, at the shimmeringly swish annual conference of the CBI, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson each gave speeches – and all three were practically buried beneath an avalanche of tumbleweed. The audience wasn’t actively hostile – they weren’t pelting each party leader with smoked salmon blinis and delice de chocolate cremeux. But nor did they sound even faintly enthusiastic. Applause, when it came, hovered somewhere…

Labour are desperate to turn the NHS into 2019’s dementia tax. It’s not working

It is now established fact that Labour’s constant and regular warnings that under the Conservatives the NHS is doomed have not quite delivered the electoral bonus they expected. 

In the seven decades since its formation, the NHS has been entrusted by the British people to the party that founded it for a grand total of 21 years. The Conservatives, on the other hand – the party that, lest we forget, voted against the NHS’s creation – have been given responsibility for it for 46 years.

And yet, in unacknowledged tribute to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity (and it probably wasn’t even he who coined the phrase), Labour have repeated, at every election in living memory, the same action over…