What Fox's intervention means for the Budget

The former defence secretary has called for faster spending cuts, tax cuts, and a relaxation of work

In his first major political intervention since resigning as Defence Secretary last year, Liam Fox has called for tax cuts for businesses and a relaxation of labour laws.

Writing in the Financial Times, the Conservative MP warned that although George Osborne's deficit reduction plan has restored some credibility and allowed the government to "buy time", something must be done to encourage growth.

There are two key passages in his article. The first reignites last year's debate on workers' rights:

To restore Britain's competitiveness we must begin by deregulating the labour market. Political objections must be overridden. It is too difficult to hire and fire and too expensive to take on new employees. It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable while output and employment are clearly cyclical.

The second -- perhaps the most newsworthy, given that we are just a month away from the Budget on 21 March -- argues for deeper, faster spending cuts:

There is a strong argument for further public spending reductions, not to fund a faster reduction in the deficit, but to reduce taxes on employment. Although the coalition agreement may require the chancellor to raise personal tax allowances (which should be paid for with spending restraint not new taxes) he should use the proceeds of spending reductions to cut employers' national insurance contributions across the board. If that is deemed impossible, he should consider targeting such tax cuts on the employment of 16 to 24-year-olds, making them more attractive to employers.

In his attack on the left and his call for mroe cuts, Fox speaks on behalf of the right of the Tory Party, for whom he has long been seen as a leader. Indeed, during the scandal over his relationship with his friend Adam Werrity which eventually led to his resignation, it was speculated that David Cameron was reluctant to sack him because it was better to have him inside the cabinet than outside causing trouble. Both Osborne and Cameron have kept in touch with Fox since he left front-line politics. Over at ConservativeHome, Tim Montgomerie points out that in calling for faster cuts, Fox is in line with the party's grassroots.

His intervention does not just reflect the views of the Tory right; it is also a clarion call for them to fight their corner. Last year saw a battle between the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners over Steve Hilton's attempts to remove a range of workplace rights. A compromise was reached in November when the Lib Dems agreed to look at relaxing rules for small companies (with less than 10 employees) but the business department has yet to take action on this.

This battle for the Budget is in evidence today, as another former cabinet member, the Liberal Democrat David Laws, writes in the Guardian about the party's "ambition for fairer tax" -- namely their key policy of raising the personal allowance to £10,000.

Little money is available to fund this tax, meaning that Fox's attack on workers' rights is shrewd. In order to safeguard the cut for low and middle earners -- one of the few popular policies that voters associate with Nick Clegg -- the Lib Dems may be forced to make concessions in other areas, such as labour regulation.

What today's intervention shows above all else is the political challenge that Osborne faces in creating a Budget that will at once appease the right of his own party while not pushing his coalition partners to breaking point.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.