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Lord Digby Jones talks Brexit today and tomorrow

As the former Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Minister for Trade & Investment, Lord Digby Jones has a unique perspective on all things Britain and Brexit.

Lord Jones recently sat down with Thomson Reuters Laurence Kiddle in a wide ranging conversation and explained the decision he made, becoming one the UK business community’s most vociferous advocates for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

Having conducted trade negotiations, Lord Jones also offered his predictions on the current Brexit talks and where he might have done things differently. He also provided a candid view of a range of current affairs in Britain, including the current political landscape, the party system, the economy and the tax system.

Lord Jones also drew on his wide range of experiences, even referencing personal meetings with British workers — from car plant workers in Sunderland, to financial service workers in Canary Wharf. And, he explored historical parallels, including allusions to nineteenth century Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, Andrew Carnegie and Hogarth.

Below are selected quotes from Lord Jones, with the full-length conversation (56 minutes) available for viewing below.

The result of the Brexit vote

“So reluctantly I voted to come out.  All that has happened since has made me feel that I am absolutely right.”

The U.S. 2016 election:

“…a choice between Benito Mussolini and Lucrezia Borgia.”

Why Britain voted to leave

Recounting an exchange with a Sunderland car plant worker:

“You don’t get it. I live in a Labour constituency; majority 26,000. My vote has never counted for anything in this country. Even my Party is now run by a load of people from North London; and so my frankly vote this time counts absolutely the same as anybody else in Britain and I’m going to use it to give those in London a right kicking. And I’m going to teach them that I matter.”

Labour Party leadership

“Jeremy Corbyn is to wealth creation what Diane Abbott is to mathematics.”

Britain’s future as a trading nation

“There are so many countries in the world now secretly saying, privately, we can do a trade deal in a morning…we can do it in outline in a morning and we do the details in quite short order….I am heartened by that. And the people who tell me that isn’t possible, have a vested interest in saying it’s not possible.”

Membership of the single market

“Any remainers who say it’s going to be possible to stay in the single market and deliver what the people wanted; it’s a complete lie.”

Started the Brexit talks early on: EU workers in Britain

“If I’d been running this negotiation, I would have said on day one, ‘If you’re working in Britain from the European Union you’re welcome, please stay, we want you, we care for you and we will look after you.’ I would have shamed the EU to do that same for our citizens abroad. And at the end of the day, they would have given in on this one. But I’d have adopted the moral high ground in early days.”

On the UK and EU trade talks

“Tariffs are not going to be the issue…actually they are going to be zero, it’s not in Germany’s interests that they are anything but zero. A million cars a year are made in Germany and sold in Britain, and at some point the bosses of BMW, VM, Mercedes, Audi and Porsche will go see Merkel. Half a billion euros worth of Italian luxury goods are sold in the Britain each year. And the biggest market for French agricultural produce is the United Kingdom. Now the Germans will go and see Merkel, the Italians will do what the Germans do and at the end of the day, the French will put 74 kilo-tons of horse poo on the Champs-Élysées.”

Lord Digby Jones with Thomson Reuters Laurence Kiddle in London.
Lord Digby Jones in conversation with Thomson Reuters Laurence Kiddle, at the Thomson Reuters SYNERGY conference in central London.

Brexiteers and Remainers

“I just wish the Brexiteers would stop the ideology and start thinking of the practical application; and I think the Remainers should stop the vain hope of destroying the wish of the British people.”

A flat tax policy in the UK

“If I had my way, there would be one flat rate of taxation; personal and corporate, probably in the low twenties. There would be no reliefs, there would be no allowances. Lawyers would be redundant, accountants would be redundant, half of HMRC would be redundant. Wouldn’t that be a contribution to productivity?”

Gordon Brown: Secret supporter of flat taxes?

“When I was Director General of the CBI I sat down with Gordon Brown one day in private and talked him through this, he not only got it, but he’d thinking about it for a long time….he said it is the most efficient and effective way of raising the greatest amount of money…he’d obviously been thinking about it. Of course it produces shed-loads of dough because no one cheats it. Everyone pays it and at the end of the day you don’t get all the fancy reliefs and you certainly don’t get all the officials needed to run it. But it’ll never happen.. because you will never politically be able to sell an idea where people who are currently paying 40 or 50 percent can pay 20 percent.

He said forget it; someone currently earning £15,000 and someone earning £3 million a year paying the same rate of tax is just not on. It actually, the way we do it, raises less money than that, but he said believe me it’s not going to happen.”

Britain becoming a low-tax, low regulation nation

“I don’t understand why the Marxists who are running the Labour Party think this is wrong…I can’t get it, we will be a low tax, low regulation economy. They immediately move that to means low wages, and you’re going to abuse your workforce. It doesn’t mean that at all. I really don’t. I can see an argument for actually ensuring that post-Brexit that the European rules that we currently have on working time and everything else, to win the confidence of people you don’t go and repeal those overnight, I really can get that.”

Multi-nationals tax avoidance

“Moving into the one area where I would get very heavy very quickly; I don’t understand why George [Osborne] never did it. I don’t understand why Hammond doesn’t do it. I don’t blame Amazon and Google and Facebook because the law of the land tells them they can…but in terms of the law that is what they are allowed do.

You blame the lawmakers; you [need to] basically say change the rules.

Facebook; British revenue £4 billion. Corporation tax bill £4,000! Well that is an absolute disgrace! I’m up for the law being changed straightaway fiscally and I would create a taxation regime on your revenue. Not a rate on your booked profits.”

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