Observations of an expat: F-*-*-k Business

F-*-*-k Business”. That was the response of Conservative British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson when told that one of Britain’s biggest employers—Airbus—was planning to move out of the UK if his country left the EU Customs Union. The expletive was actually uttered privately, but the mercurial Boris has refused to deny it and in politics absence of denial is the same as claiming ownership.

The shocking thing is not the foreign secretary’s choice of words. His audience is used to the colourful language of this self-confessed admirer of Donald Trump. It is the sentiment behind it and the axis shifting policy change it represents.

The British conservative party has always been the party of business and financial probity. The Labour Party has been the big-spending, squeeze them til the pips squeak, conscience of the nation. It is the traditional home of the social ideologues who are more concerned with correcting perceived social injustices than they are worried about securing the source of the money which pays for their corrections.

But Boris Johnson’s expletive indicates that the Tories are as ideologically driven as Labour has ever been. It is being steered by a coterie of European-hating politicians who are prepared to sacrifice Britain’s finances at the high altar of Brexit.   The ideologues have staged a coup in the British conservative party.

Prime Minister Theresa May has tried to clawback some rationality. “We have always been the party of business and we will always be the party of business,” she exclaimed. But Mrs May has refused to disown her foreign secretary and she has certainly made no move to make the only decision that will truly mollify the British business community—sacking Boris Johnson.

The reason is that Boris leads his party’s Brexiteers and the Brexiteers are the tail wagging the conservative dog. Brexit hardliners are still very much a minority within the conservative parliamentary party, but they have behind them a referendum win—albeit a narrow one based on a suspect campaign. Mrs May needs Boris Johnson in government simply because he is more dangerous out of it.

But the Brexiteers price for staying in government is high: British departure from the EU single market and customs union. This will significantly increase costs for any British-based company which conducts trade across the English Channel.

Airbus is one such company. The entire British car manufacturing industry is another. Airbus in the UK is responsible for producing the wings of Europe’s Airbus planes. These are often referred to as the “crown jewels” of the aerospace industry. The 14,000 people employed across 25 British sites are highly-skilled and highly-paid designers and engineers. It is estimated that the company generates a further 100,000 jobs in ancillary industries. It contributes $10 billion a year to the British economy and pays $1.5 billion in taxes.

And then there is the income tax paid by the workers. These are no lightweights. They earn big bucks. If we conservatively estimate that the average salary is $70,000 that means about another $2.7 billion in revenues for the British exchequer.

Airbus is a drop in the financial ocean compared to the car industry. According to the British Society of Motor Manufacturers, the UK car industry employs an estimated 757,000 people in designing, engineering, manufacturing, mending, selling and making components for cars. It is responsible for 7.2 percent of all British manufacturing. It contributes to the exchequer an estimated $35 billion.

Theresa May recently increased National Health Service spending by 3.4 per cent in real terms until 2025. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson wants to boost defence spending from two percent to three percent to make the British military “fit for purpose.” This has to be paid for either out of increased taxes or borrowings which are no more than delayed taxes.  Taxes come from business and employed people. That is how the system has always worked and always will work. Unemployed people and non-existent companies do not pay taxes. Which is why I say: F-*-*-* Boris.


* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor, author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain” and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems

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  • And hence why many of us who are right wing on economics are Lib Dem voters. Petty nationalism and Tory attempts at Churchillian bulldoggeral are as ridiculous and damaging as the extreme left.

    Abusing corporations sounds like a sixth former who has just discovered the SWP, an anti TTIP protestor spouting ridiculous slogans or an RMT communist trying to pick a fight. It really is offensive, bigoted and pathetic. Johnson needs to grow up and be removed from office.

    This does give the Lib Dems a boost though. Millions of adults are pro-corporate and pro-globalisation and we can harness this vote who have deserted the Kippercons and wouldn’t touch Corbyn under any circumstance.

  • Peter Martin 29th Jun '18 - 12:16pm

    The problem with business people is they tend to think that countries should be run like businesses. A common remark would go something like:

    “If I ran my business like you run your government I’d be bankrupt within a week!
    Blah blah blah……”

    In their minds a profit is a surplus and a deficit is a loss. So just as their business has to be in profit so should all Govts have to be in surplus. This ignores basic arithmetic of course. Everything in a macroeconomic sense has to sum to zero and therefore someone has to be in deficit for others to be in surplus.

    There’s probably no excuse for foul language but, all the same, business leaders should be told in no uncertain terms to concentrate on running their businesses and keep out of government. If they feel differently they can stand for election like anyone else.

    If business had had their way in the early 00s we’d have all been using the euro now. Business leaders wanted it and tried to strong arm the Govt into adopting it. That would have been a disaster. They didn’t know what they were talking about then and they don’t know what they are talking about now.

  • Peter Watson 29th Jun '18 - 12:40pm

    @Stimpson “And hence why many of us who are right wing on economics are Lib Dem voters.”
    Light the blue touch paper and retire … 😉

  • Orange touch paper.

  • I would suggest that Boris Johnson is driven by ambition, not ideology. He famously prepared 2 articles for the Telegraph – one for, and one against Brexit.

    When he says “f**k business” he means business is irrelevant to his personal ambition to be Prime Minister, having calculated that a pro-Brexit stance wins him more votes from Tory party members in a leadership election contest.

    Certain other senior Brexiteer Tories (e.g. JRM), unlike the majority of the population, are indeed in a position to “have cake and eat it” – moving their business interests and/or themselves into the EU to avoid any negative short term impact whilst expecting to benefit from a small government and lax regulatory environment in the future UK. Again, that’s not ideology, that’s “f**k everyone” selfishness.

  • Gordon Lishman 30th Jun '18 - 9:12am

    Michael Gove sounds to me like someone who wants to be Leader of the Conservative Party. Boris Johnson sounds like someone who is positioning himself to be Leader of a new populist party on the lines of Orban or Trump. If you look at the British Elections Survey (thanks to David Howarth who has), it’s easy to see his potential constituency – socially conservative, nationalist, anti-capitalist, ignored……… For Boris, the best result could well be exit from Brexit, leaving him as the natural leader of the resentful Leaver-losers and mobilising “the people” against “the elites”.

  • Philip Knowles 30th Jun '18 - 9:17am

    @Peter Martin
    They ARE concentrating on running their businesses. Every good business runs regulat SWOT analyses. Part of this is PESTLE analysis. First 2 are Political and Economic. Businesses can influence their micro environment but not the macro environment (PESTLE). UK company law demands that management protect and defend their shareholders from loss. If a business sees a potential threat to its survival by LAW it must do something about it. All they can do is speak out. It is not interfering it is trying to survive – as is Theresa May

  • Yeovil Yokel 30th Jun '18 - 11:29am

    Philip Knowles – I agree, and at least Airbus, BMW, Siemens, et al express their views openly – what is of much greater concern is the amount of lobbying of government by business which goes on behind the scenes.

    Don’t be too hard on Boris, people, when he said “F*** Business” he was clearly anticipating the coupling together of Tata and Thyssenkrupp announced this morning.

  • the coupling together of Tata and Thyssenkrupp announced this morning
    Well, from a previous LDV discussion of the steel industry in the UK with respect to Chinese exports and world demand for steel, I think this is more about rearranging the deck chairs; I don’t expect the industry to last long post-Brexit, unless the government contributes…

  • Philip Knowles 1st Jul '18 - 7:59am

    I live not far from Redcar which was a significant player in the steel industry. It has been in the hands of the Thais and Indians and closed.
    Port Talbot has been in the Indians and now German. Our car industry is Japanese, French, German and American. Our chemical industry is Saudi, German, Dutch and American. Energy suppliers are foreign owned. Mobile phone companies are mainly foreign owned. A lot of our banks are foreign owned. Even our chocolate industry is foreign owned. That is why Brexit is so dangerous. Decisions about the futures of these businesses are no longer made within the UK.
    Cadbury’s moved production to Poland because it was cheaper. If you have a European market of 500M against a UK market of 66M if there is ANY additional cost of trading with the 500M any sensible business will move production to where it is cheaper. Mainly French owned Nissan may be one of the first to go (despite the ‘secret’ deal agreed with Theresa May) as all the factories have to bid for each new project – even a 5% tariff would make it impossible for Washington to win.
    I wonder how the people honking their horns ‘We won’ as they drove into Nissan the day after the Referendum will feel then.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Jul '18 - 1:23pm

    That our foreign secretary can get away with such a remark tells us plenty about the present state of the Conservative Party. Our politics is in such a shambles that I can only surmise that it is only a question of time before common sense prevails. There is a wide open door for a progressive Party like ourselves and we much be ready for our time that will surely come.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jul '18 - 4:27pm

    @Stimpson “And hence why many of us who are right wing on economics are Lib Dem voters.”
    Once this would have been quite inflammatory (hence my blue touch paper “joke”), but now it seems that nobody on this site bats an eyelid at such a suggestion.

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