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What Brexit would mean for the UK economy

Star fund manager Neil Woodford, whose Woodford Equity Income fund has returned 14.7 per cent since launch 20 months ago compared to a 1.5 per cent loss for the average fund in the sector in the same time period, has revealed what he thinks the impacts of Brexit would be on the UK economy.

The veteran fund manager remarked that whether the UK electorate vote to remain or leave, ‘the fundamentals of the UK economy will be relatively unmoved’ either way.

Neil Woodford’s firm, Woodford Investment Management commissioned a research report from non-aligned firm Capital Economics, into the economic impacts.

The report concluded, amongst other things, that ‘It is highly probable that a favourable trade agreement would be reached after Brexit as there are advantages for both sides in continuing a close commercial arrangement. But the worst-case scenario, in which Britain faces tariffs under ‘most-favoured nation’ rules, is certainly no disaster. Exporters would face some additional costs, such as complying with the European Union’s rules of origin, if they were outside the single market. However, these factors would be an inconvenience rather than a major barrier to trade. In addition, fears that exporters would be left high and dry the day after the Brexit vote are unfounded. Under the Lisbon Treaty, a country leaving the European Union has 2 years in which to negotiate a withdrawal agreement.

In addition, falling tariffs, the decline in manufacturing and Europe’s diminishing importance in the global economy mean we doubt that even the absence of a trade deal with the European Union would hurt the United Kingdom’s overall exports materially. The benefits of being in the European Union are smaller than they were a few decades ago, when a Brexit would have been a far bigger deal. However, the effects will vary across sectors. Brexit would give Britain a crucial opportunity by allowing it to broker its own trade deals with non-European Union countries; indeed Britain could even have a unilateral free trade policy. Non-European Union countries may find negotiating with Britain easier and quicker than dealing with the European Union’s bureaucratic machine, as Switzerland has shown.

The production sectors in the economy face a more uncertain outcome than services. The range of potential outcomes is more variable as production sectors are more dependent on whether or not the United Kingdom agrees a trading agreement with the European Union and the nature of any such agreement. The possibility of tariffs on goods exports to the European Union gives greater downside potential, while the opportunity to open up trade with other countries or to increase the sector’s competitiveness through greater competition or cheaper inputs gives it more upside potential.

Contrary to the claims of many authors and commentators, it is probable that the impacts of Brexit on trade would be relatively small. Moreover, it is certainly possible that leaving the European Union would leave the external sector better off in the long run, if Britain could use its new found freedom to negotiate its own trading arrangements to good effect.’

On the subject of the impact on financial services and the city, the report said, ‘Financial services have more to lose immediately after a European Union exit than most other sectors of the economy. Even in the best case, in which passporting rights were preserved, the United Kingdom would still lose influence over the single market’s rules. The City would probably be hurt in the short term, but it would not spell disaster. The City’s competitive advantage is founded on more than just unfettered access to the single market. A European Union exit would enable the United Kingdom to broker trade deals with emerging markets that could pay dividends for the financial services sector in the long run.’

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