Why business should hold its nose and vote against Johnson

by Andrew Gowers | 19.11.2019

In an electorate that so far seems distinctly underwhelmed by the election campaign, there can be few constituencies more unhappy than the business community. As delegates at this week’s CBI conference listened to the three party leaders set out their stall, the disquiet was palpable. The one statement that drew a brief cheer was Jo Swinson’s pledge to “stop Brexit on day one” of a Lib Dem-led government. Yet many company bosses grudgingly admitted afterwards that the Conservatives would still get their vote as “the lesser of two evils” compared to Labour. 

This approach is topsy-turvy. The biggest issue in this election for business, and the most important dividing line between the two main parties, is Britain’s future relationship with Europe. Much as the party leaders seek to change the subject and talk about just about anything else, the options are a disastrous rupture with the EU as soon as next year under Boris Johnson; and a closer alignment with the possibility of continued membership under Jeremy Corbyn. It may be an invidious choice, but it is the only real one available. 

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    To make this argument is not to belittle the very substantial objections that any right-thinking businessperson will raise to Labour’s manifesto when it is published this week. Large-scale nationalisation, punitive taxation and a massively enhanced role for the state are not going to revive the increasingly moribund economy. On the contrary, such a programme could be the final straw for potential investors who are already sitting on their hands due to Brexit uncertainty. 

    Two arithmetical realities

    Yet these concerns need to be set against two arithmetical realities. First, the outcome of this contest will be unusually binary. If the Conservatives gain a majority, Johnson’s utterly rotten Brexit deal will pass and the government will be on the impossible mission of securing a comprehensive trade deal with Europe in just 11 months – likely to result in a no-deal disaster. If they fail to win a majority, a new Prime Minister will negotiate for a softer Brexit and put the choice between the resulting deal and remaining in the EU to a new referendum. That, for business, should be the overwhelming preference.

    The second reason to focus on the Europe issue rather than Labour’s other, less agreeable plans is what the polls are unanimously telling us about the chances of Corbyn winning a majority on December 12. They are, as the doyen of psephologists John Curtice put it last week, “as close to zero as one can safely say it to be”. So in terms of real impact on the economy, the alternatives are a Conservative government hell-bent on damaging economic relations with our largest trading partner and a hung parliament in which charting a softer course on Europe will be the principal aim. 

    If it were possible to vote for a hung parliament, that would surely be the box where business would put its cross. But absent that option, the sensible course is to vote for the candidate who has the best chance of defeating the Conservative. There will be some constituencies where a Lib Dem or SNP candidate or a representative of the “Unite to Remain” coalition will be that person. But in most cases, the best hope for pushing the Tories out will still be Labour. 

    That means that even businesspeople who deplore everything else the main opposition party stands for may need to put those concerns aside when they get to the polling booth. Maintaining close economic ties with Europe is what matters most for the economy. Whatever he says now, under Johnson that will prove impossible. Under any other government, it will be close to guaranteed.

    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    Categories: Brexit, UK Politics

    5 Responses to “Why business should hold its nose and vote against Johnson”

    • I was greatly disappointed by the CBI thing. Johnson applauded on to the stage, laughs at some jokey comment he ad libbed. Many of them are Tories and some were still crying ‘ we need to get Brexit done so we have certainty, we cannot have any more delay.’
      If I had a business I would be even more angry about Brexit than I am now. No one at the CBI seemed willing to give Johnson some stick. It was all too nice and friendly. He got away with it again. How many in business I wonder understand the wider ramifications? Not many judging from yesterday.

    • And so it is getting more and more clear that Brexit still is what a UK majority of probably mainly English voters want. Sad but true, so Johnson’s playing and lying to that apparently hopelessly undereducated and dim, xenophobic caste in this country is going to hand him the coming five years as PM and the chance to ram through the worst of bad Brexits. Still hoping it is not going to happen but accepting reality I also accept that the concept of a US vassal state on Europe’s doorstep is going to become reality. Please let the Irish and Scots cut those UK ties!

    • Sadly, Peter I am thinking the same thing. In the TV debate Johnson reduced everything to ‘get Brexit done.‘ Ram the simple message home. The buffoon stated as fact that the NHS was in trouble because of Brexit. The lying git , but he gets away with it. They dubbed Tony Blair as Teflon Tony but Johnson is Teflon Tony x10. Watch any item where people are interviewed about Brexit you repeatedly see the shallow reasoning. The vast majority have no idea about the complexity of leaving the EU or the wider ramifications. Just ‘ get it done because I am sick of it‘ is repeated time and time again.
      Disappointingly, in a drab debate Corbyn did not expose Johnson’s lies. A golden opportunity to show that Johnson is a liar and a chancer but he did not take it

    • I think Corbyn came over far better than Johnson, and I am not a great fan of his. If the BBC claim it was a draw you can bet that in reality Corbyn came out on top. The choice is becoming clearer in reality;
      1. If you want Brexit and are happy with No Deal, vote Conservative or Brexit.
      2. If you want a second referendum with the option of a Leave Deal that works best for the majority of the population, or the right to Remain, Vote Labour
      3. If you want to see it Brexit cancelled, vote Lib Dem or Greens.

      Corbyn was attacked by Johnson repeatedly for not saying which side he would campaign on as if this was a mark of weakness, but in reality he is being consistent with the offer he is putting out. If he was to say he would campaign for one view or the other, the Conservatives and their sycophantic media followers would be the first to point out he was betraying one side or the other.
      In reality Johnson again showed himself to be lying as anyone who can think things through logically can see he cannot get a trade deal with the US on terms that work for a deal with EU and vice versa by December 2020. Hence with the Conservatives are offering a mere pause to No Deal. He would not have got the support of the ERG and Farage without that being the most likely outcome.

    • Johnson is pushing for all his worth the line that business wants certainty. There is some truth in the fact that business decision makers hate uncertainty, and there is a case for saying any decision is better than no decision.

      However, if that decision brings near certain catastrophy, complications, extra bureaucracy and, above all, extra cost, its not a great deal of help. Rather like an arsonist saying, I am giving you certainty now that I will be burning down your house.

      The Lib Dems are also offering certainty. It is to consign on Day 1 of a new Government, this whole miserable, pointless Brexit experiment into the wastebin of history . That would be alot swifter and give more certainty than Johnson could ever offer.