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17 March 2017
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Political intrigue

In the weeks after the Brexit vote, barely a day went by in UK politics without some new major earthquake. In the days following Chancellor Philip Hammond’s first Budget, the ground is again feeling rather shaky

Since a relaxed and (some might argue) overly confident Philip Hammond sat down at the end of his maiden Budget speech, which had been peppered with jokes at the expense of his rivals, barely a day has gone by without some significant event occurring in UK politics.

Whether it be the chancellor’s embarrassing U-turn on national insurance contributions, or Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s referendum grandstanding, there has certainly been plenty for the chattering classes to chatter about.

And all of it could yet have a big impact on the infrastructure community.

Let’s start with Hammond. Some in the Tory party, and further afield, believe the chancellor may now be severely weakened as a result of the NICs debacle – to the extent that there have even be murmurings that he may be shuffled out of the Treasury at some point in the future.

Such a move would surely be a disaster for the infrastructure community, and in particular for the private finance community, which remains hanging on the hope that the promised PF2 pipeline will be published sometime in the coming months. The arrival of a new chancellor before that pipeline can be launched would likely cause further delay to the programme – particularly if the new arrival were to be less ideologically minded to support the concept.

For now, we simply have to hope that ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ can weather this storm.

Then there is Scotland – just a few short years after a referendum campaign that was felt by many in the industry to have had a negative impact on investment in the country, Sturgeon is trying to get another one off the ground. So far, Prime Minister Theresa May has been clear in rejecting the possibility of another referendum, but the continued unhappiness with the direction of travel from Westminster on Brexit among the Scottish people will increase the pressure.

Add in that May was expected to trigger Article 50, formally starting the procedure for Brexit, only to delay that announcement, and the feeling of uncertainty over the UK’s direction of travel is only exacerbated.

May is certainly fortunate to have a barely credible opposition against her, which has failed to take her to task over many of these and other failings. But the uncertainty her government appears to be creating will not have investors rushing to plough their cash into the UK just at the moment.

Then, of course, on Friday, former Chancellor George Osborne – who was so unceremoniously dumped out of government by May – popped up as the new editor of the Evening Standard. Whatever his Tatton constituents might think about this latest career move, it seems pretty certain that Osborne will be keen to keep the pressure on this government, in what could also turn out to be something of a destabilising move for May and her team.

Interesting times indeed.

 

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Political intrigue

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In the weeks after the Brexit vote, barely a day went by in UK politics without some new major earthquake. In the days following Chancellor Philip Hammond’s first Budget, the ground is again feeling rather shaky

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