Can Osborne really take credit for Glaxo's move?

It was a 2009 Labour announcement, not Osborne's Budget, that persuaded Glaxo to invest.

For George Osborne, who declared that his Budget "unashamedly backs business", GlaxoSmithKline's announcement of a new biopharmaceutical factory in Cumbria [its first manufacturing facility in the UK for 40 years] couldn't have come at a better time. In his interviews this morning, the Chancellor didn't miss an opportunity to take credit for the decision:

You have GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's biggest companies, one of the great British success stories, saying the budget has changed their view of Britain as a place to invest.

They're going to create 1,000 jobs here. Now, surely my responsibility as the country's chancellor is to get the economy moving, to get jobs created, and when big companies say that about Britain, people should sit up and notice that we are changing the British economy for the better.

It is rather misleading, however, for Osborne to claim it as an overnight success. The main reason for GSK's move is the introduction of a "patent box" [which introduces a lower rate of corporation tax on profits generated from UK-owned intellectual property], a measure previously announced by Alistair Darling in the 2009 pre-Budget report. As Labour has highlighted this morning, yesterday's Budget document even admitted as much [see Table 2.2, p.53].

In his statement, GSK chief executive Andrew Witty made it clear that the patent box was the ultimate pull factor:

The introduction of the patent box has transformed the way in which we view the UK as a location for new investments, ensuring that the medicines of the future will not only be discovered, but can also continue to be made here in Britain. Consequently, we can confirm that we will build GSK's first new UK factory for almost 40 years and that we will make other substantial capital investments in our British manufacturing base.

In fairness to Osborne, however, Witty also cited further cuts to the general rate of corporation tax, which will fall to 24 per cent next month, having stood at 28 per cent when the coalition took office. Of interest, then, is the timing of GSK's announcement. The company's press office has confirmed to me that the decision was taken several days in advance of the Budget. To some, the conveniently timed announcement by Witty [who was knighted in 2012] has a whiff of corporatism about it.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Brexiteers want national sovereignty and tighter borders – but they can't have both

The role of the European Court of Justice is a major sticking point in talks.

Why doesn't Theresa May's counter-offer on the rights of European citizens living and working in Britain pass muster among the EU27? It all comes down to one of the biggest sticking points in the Brexit talks: the role of the European Court of Justice.

The European Commission, under direction from the leaders of member states, wants the rights of the three million living here and of the British diaspora in the EU guaranteed by the European Court. Why? Because that way, the status of EU citizens here or that of British nationals in the EU aren't subject to the whims of a simple majority vote in the legislature.

This is where Liam Fox, as crassly he might have put it, has a point about the difference between the UK and the EU27, being that the UK does not "need to bury" its 20th century history. We're one of the few countries in the EU where political elites get away with saying, "Well, what's the worst that could happen?" when it comes to checks on legislative power. For the leaders of member states, a guarantee not backed up by the European Court of Justice is no guarantee at all.

That comes down to the biggest sticking point of the Brexit talks: rules. In terms of the deal that most British voters, Leave or Remain, want – a non-disruptive exit that allows the British government to set immigration policy – UK politicians can get that, provided they concede on money and rules, ie we continue to follow the directions of the European Court while having no power to set them. Britain could even seek its own trade deals and have that arrangement.

But the problem is that deal runs up against the motivations of the Brexit elite, who are in the main unfussed about migration but are concerned about sovereignty – and remaining subject to the rule of the ECJ without being able to set its parameters is, it goes without saying, a significant loss of sovereignty. 

Can a fudge be found? That the Article 50 process goes so heavily in favour of the EU27 and against the leaving member means that the appetite on the EuCo side for a fudge is limited. 

But there is hope, as David Davis has conceded that there will have to be an international guarantor, as of course there will have to be. If you trade across borders, you need a cross-border referee. If a plane goes up in one country and lands in another, then it is, by necessity, regulated across borders. (That arrangement has also been mooted by Sigmar Gabriel, foreign minister in Angela Merkel's government. But that Gabriel's centre-left party looks likely to be expelled from coalition after the next election means that his support isn't as valuable as many Brexiteers seem to think.)

On the Conservative side, a new EU-UK international body would satisfy the words of May's ECJ red line. On the EU27 side, that the body would, inevitably, take its lead from the treaties of the EU sans Britain and the ECJ would mean that in spirit, Britain would be subject to the ECJ by another name.

But it comes back to the Brexit dilemma. You can satisfy the voters' demand for non-disruptive control of British borders. You can satisfy political demand for sovereignty. But you can't have both. May – and whoever replaces her – will face the same question: who do you disappoint?

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

0800 7318496