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.

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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.