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31 October 2016

What the fuss over Mark Carney tell us about Brexit Britain

For the last four decades, Britain had the security - and the limitations - of a boat in the harbour, the country is about to exchange that for the freedom and vulnerability of a ship at sea.

By Stephen Bush

A weekend of speculation over Mark Carney’s future ends on the frontpage of today’s FT: “Carney stands ready to serve full eight year term at Bank of England” is their splash.

According to the FT’s Chris Giles, Carney is “leaning strongly” towards staying, not least because of his desire not to weaken the central bank’s independence on monetary policy. (Giles also has an excellent rundown of how Carney became Public Enemy No.1 as far as the Brexiteers are concerned). 

Speculation over Carney’s future was whipped up after a joke by the Spectator‘s Martin Vander Meyer that Theresa May was contemplating making Jacob Rees-Mogg the new governor was taken very seriously by a Bloomberg columnist, resulting in a write-up in the Mail on Sunday and a general flurry of panic.

The government, who sent Greg Clark out on the Marr programme partly to field questions on what, exactly, they offered to keep Nissan in Britain, but also to settle nerves before the markets opened on Monday. Settling the question Carney’s future tied up is also part of that strategy. 

The panic attests to two things. The first is the vulnerability of Britain on the markets after the Brexit vote. Rightly or wrongly, UK plc is no longer considered a safe asset. That the idea that Rees-Mogg could be considered a suitable governor by anyone in a senior government post is no longer immediately seen as laughable only highlights that. 

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The second, is the bargain that, knowingly or unknowingly, British voters struck on 23 June. For more than four decades, the United Kingdom, as I’ve written before, gave up a measure of its sovereignty in a “controlled” way, in order to prevent it losing it “uncontrolled” ways. That Carney is likely to commit one way or another now is partly because Britain’s seaworthiness as far as the global markets are concerned rests less in its institutions or its history but in the presence of one Canadian banker. 

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Put it like this: if for the last four decades, Britain had the security – and the limitations – of a boat in the harbour, the country is about to exchange that for the freedom and vulnerability of a ship at sea. For the Brexit elite in the pages of the Spectator and SW1, that’s a deal they’ve made willingly. The future direction of British politics depends to a great extent on whether the 17m who voted for Leave feel that was part of the bargain – and if the 16m who did not can be reconciled to that trade-off at all.

This originally appeared in “Morning Call”, my daily guide to everything you need to know about politics in Westminster and beyond. It’s free, and you can subscribe here.