Steven Woolfe MEP: Theresa May must call Brussels’ bluff

Steven Woolfe MEP © Getty Images
Steven Woolfe: May’s advisers “are too trusting of Brussels”

Over the past 15 months we’ve spoken to City insiders and those with political and diplomatic experience about how Brexit could affect Britain’s economy. This week, we talk to a man with a foot in both camps.

Steven Woolfe MEP is City lawyer who has worked for several top financial institutions (including UBS and Standard Bank) and was a senior figure in the Hedge Fund Association. In 2014 he was elected to European Parliament under the Ukip banner for the North West region. Now an independent MEP, he is a member of the European Monetary Affairs Committee, “one of the only members who has actually worked in banking”, he wryly notes.

Woolfe developed Ukip’s migration policy, and continues to be interested in this area. Earlier this year he published a paper for the “Leave means leave” pressure group on how immigration policy could work after Brexit.

His idea is to have a fixed number of work permits, which would be allocated to various sectors by a special advisory committee, based on consultation with industry. The individual visas would then be allocated on a points basis, so they would go to those most qualified. In effect, “people would be admitted on the basis of their CVs, so highly skilled workers would still be able to work here, while reducing net migration to around 50,000”.

Woolfe agrees that a special visa should be created to allow (or even encourage) those EU citizens already working in the UK to remain in an attempt to minimise disruption to the economy. However, he thinks that in return they should notify the government of their intentions and observe UK laws. This means their automatic right to bring in foreign spouses should be replaced with one conditional on income. Woolfe thinks it is unfair that “if you fell in love with an American you would have to earn a certain amount of money before they would be allowed into this country, but Europeans can bring in anyone”.

He’s also bullish about the benefits of Brexit for both the City of London and the wider economy. In his view, “European regulations have imposed huge costs especially in the areas of reporting, capital requirements and bonuses”. Indeed, he is particularly critical of the Mifid II (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive) rules on solvency and benchmarking. Leaving the EU will also allow us to reform the taxation system in a more business-friendly way and make it easier to support firms directly (which is currently made very difficult by rules requiring Brussels to approve anything that could be seen as state aid for companies).

Woolfe suggests that the government can deal with the possible loss of financial passporting by setting up a dual regulatory regime. This would allow financial institutions dependent on access to the single market to keep doing so, provided they followed EU rules. However, at the same time, those companies that just wanted to operate domestically would benefit from lighter regulation. Such a regime would also make it easier to trade with non-EU countries. At the very least, government should urgently review the impact of EU laws on small and medium sized companies.

Trade is also another area, where Brexit has the potential to boost national income with Woolfe optimistic that we can quickly cut deals with other countries, especially the United States, Australia and Canada. Having visited the US several times recently, and spoken to various politicians, he thinks that, “there is a strong desire for a trade agreement”. However, he is unhappy that the EU is (in his view) trying to sabotage the process by insisting that we conclude Brexit negotiations before negotiating new trade agreements, with any formal deals delayed until after 2021. He considers these demands to be “nonsense” and thinks that the government should make clear that this is “unacceptable”.

Last year, Woolfe publicly declared that he was impressed with Theresa May’s determination to leave the EU. However, while he still doesn’t doubt her convictions, he thinks that those advising her “are too trusting of Brussels”. He is also worried that optimism around Brexit “is being tainted by those who don’t want to see the advantages”. However, the biggest problem is that the EU isn’t negotiating in good faith, but instead working hard to “delay, obstruct and effectively ensure that Britain doesn’t leave”. In order to prevent Brussels succeeding, the Prime Minister needs to call their bluff by making it clear that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

  • Cameron Holder

    I’m still wondering where these extra workers are going to come from when we reduce migration. We are getting quite close to full employment so how are we going to continue growing when there are no people to fill those jobs? And our problem is going to be unskilled work, who is going to work on farms and in retail/hospitality if the only visa’s being issued are for skilled workers? Pret’s stat is that only 1 in 50 people who apply to work there are British.

    • AAJ

      We need to invest in technology and not rely on cheap labor. We have been moving towards a low wage society. It’s great that someone with a degree is serving you coffee, but it’s very inefficient. We keep subsidising companies via in work benefits. Wages need to be higher, poor companies need to go bust, good companies need to be more efficient.

      “who is going to work on farms”

      about time we had robot strawberry pickers

      “Pret’s stat is that only 1 in 50 people who apply to work there are British.”

      Oh no, I’ll never be able to eat an over-priced sandwich again. No wait, I make my own lunch and there’s a coffee machine in work (choice of 2 coffee beans)

      • Cameron Holder

        I agree that people with degrees shouldn’t be serving coffee but you will need someone to serve the coffee regardless. Technology can only do so much when it comes to hospitality. So the question is if we are close to full employment do we want our citizens to do those jobs or do we want to outsource that and upskill British people (who are more likely to stay in the long term) so they can do the skilled work which pays better.

        • Warun Boofit

          You may feel the need for people to serve coffee but I can manage very well myself, its nice to have servers but I would prefer we had technicians and engineers and not to serve me with coffee, productivity is being hampered by the supply of cheap unskilled labour. I worked for 30 years exporting British made industrial products to Europe and the rest of the world, we can manage very well outside the EU.

          • Cameron Holder

            The market feels this need, which is why we now have 20,000 coffee shops. Incidentally other areas of strong growth are care of the elderly, tourism (and all the hospitality that requires) and restaurants. All heavy employers and all predicted to continue their growth in the next few years.

  • paulos272

    So will these rather pro Brexit views be counterbalanced by some pro Europe views, or are you only going to cover one part of the agenda?

    I disagree that we are becoming a nation of unskilled labour. The migrants who choose to stay also undertake many skilled jobs beyond the strawberry picking, as well as making a far greater contribution that Mr Woolfe does to society. To suggest immigration purely produces unskilled labour is frankly ludicrous.

    Productivity is being hampered by Tory red tape, which it conveniently pretends is EU bureaucracy. It’s hampered by inefficiency throughout administration, especially in the civil service. The ‘blame it on the migrants’ line is fundamentally lazy rhetoric for Daily Mail readers.

  • Clive Milburn

    Next time you spam me with ridiculous hard-right propaganda like this I will unsubscribe. How about some balance?

    • andy hancox

      Well said …me too Andy Hancox

  • C Kubicki

    Over the last two years Master Wolfe has
    proved himself something of a fantasist on a number of fronts. Fisticuffs in
    Brussels, his effort to seek leadership of UKIP followed by the switch to
    Theresa May acolyte were highly entertaining but the paper on Immigration has
    to be one of the least credible of any proposal on post Brexit Britain.

    Access to labour of all skill levels is a key element in a successful capitalist economy. Our education system is failing to supply the needs of our society we need immigration. From a cultural and geographical perspective Europe is the best source.

  • pigly

    I think the PM needs to call Philip Hammond’s bluff as well. This monkey is trying to undermine her whole strategy. Is he really a Conservative or a Brussels spy?
    Incidentally, I am a farmer so I can tell you without so called ‘cheap’ labour all your food will be imported anyway from the countries where these people will work in future. I have no problem with anyone coming here TO WORK. The solution is simply no benefits of any kind. You work, you earn money. No work, after six weeks you get chucked out. Simple. By the way too many of our own idiots go to university and get a qualification in media studies or something else useless they will never use, when they could be working and earning money. University has become a means of filling or wasting the time of 18 year olds who want to spend time drinking and chasing girls at their parent’s expense rather than growing up and taking responsibility for their lives. They are entitled to vote, so they are entitled to be responsible and work as well!. No more than 10% of the young leaving school should go to university; only the brightest should be entertained.

  • William Mckinlay

    This kind of peice makes me think I should cancel my subscription to Money Week. Mr Woolfe is talked up in the introduction. However, then I remember the shenanigans over his seeking the leadership of UKIP and the Hookem affair, and I am disinclined to take heed of what he says.

  • andy hancox

    I posted a very critical piece on here an hour or so ago, but it seems to have disappeared. Frankly this garbage is an insult to our intelligence. Money Week is increasingly an irrelevant and out of touch publication. Unless I see an apology for this arrant nonsense and a clear alternative view expressed, then I’m out of here. Nearly all of business and the economics profession believes that Brexit will be a national catastrophe. I’m not going to subsidise nonsense and will cancel my subscription unless I see an urgent distancing of the organisation from these bizarre opinions.

    • smspf

      seconded, for what it is worth

  • Russell Bruce

    Brussels isn’t bluffing. Whilst inside the EU the UK had influence. Now that it is leaving it has nothing to bargain with. As far as the major financial centres in the EU are concerned the UK is red meat. Staying in the Single Market and Customs Union would provide some leverage but abandoning Leave is the only sensible solution. If it is this hard negotiating with 27 former members it with be dog eating the little bulldog when attempting to arrange all those global deals Fox has found not real interest in. This guy may know something about banking and hedge funds but he doesn’t understand real politic in an EU moving forward sans a UK with struggling growth and the dire predictions now bearing down on a small country separating itself from its regional economic power source.

    • Warun Boofit

      I dont care wether ‘ Brussels’ is bluffing or not, I do not want to bargain, sticking two fingers up and walking away from the fake negotiations suits me. I voted enthusiastically to join the EU and for many years I ignored the bungling idiots that run it thinking that eventually it would come right but it never has. I read the Daily Mail, does that make my vote to leave invalid ? I also read the FT, The Spectator, The Guardian , the Irish Times etc. does that make me any better ?

      Andy Hancox – do you think MW cares if you cancel your subscription especially as you are suggesting people with a view you disagree with have ‘ bizarre opinions’ ? When a ‘piece’ is not approved it can be rejected by the MW moderator but it should still show up in your profile and your ‘piece’ does not, are you sure you posted it ? I believe in free speech so repost it , I want to read it.

  • John Clee

    The only absolutely important issue is that the U.K. escapes from under the Brussels jackboot; if that means no deal, for heavens’ sake, let us get on with it.

  • Neill Cauwood

    I agree with most points. It is difficult not to conclude that the EU would like to make it impossible for the UK to leave and, to kill two birds with one stone, frighten any other of the other 27 members who may wish to contemplate an exit. They claim they have no desire to punish or balckmail the UK, but at the same time declare that we must feel the pain of leaving and come to regret it.