Parliament has spoken plainly: it’s a ‘no’ to no-deal Brexit; a ‘no’ to May’s deal; and a ‘no’ to anyone in Westminster having a scooby about where we go next.
But before we get lost in the negativity, let’s take stock. In the second of a series of consecutive votes to determine the future of Brexit, MPs voted last night to reject no-deal “under any circumstances” by 321 to 278. While the numbers might seem closer than you’d expect , this was because of an earlier amendment which toughened up the vote’s language and – in the spirit of confusion - led the government to vote against its motion. 13 ministers abstained in the vote, whilst work and pensions minister Sarah Newton became the latest to resign after she voted against the government.
The high drama curiously made for strong gains in the pound and a surprisingly sanguine mood on global markets. And yet business finds itself in its most uncertain position yet. The prospect of a long extension and UK participation in May’s EU parliament elections – as threatened by the prime minister ahead of a third vote tonight – is exactly what business doesn’t want.
The PM’s voice might have run hoarse by repeating it, but last night’s vote doesn’t take no-deal off the table. Only a deal can do that. And the current absence of one means we crash out of the EU on March 29th whether we like it or not.
Meanwhile, that the chancellor’s Spring Statement went relatively unnoticed is tantamount to the level of general hysteria in Westminster. Perhaps just as well; Philip Hammond had precious little to offer from the dispatch box other than to dangle the prospect of a £26.6 billion “Brexit dividend” should MPs vote for the government’s deal. And at 1.2%, the OBR’s latest forecast for UK annual GDP growth was its lowest since 2009.
Which brings us back to tonight. At this late stage in the game, here’s hoping a third vote for parliament, this time on an extension – or maybe a third outing for Mrs May’s meaningful vote as speculated for next week – could provide certainty one way or another. Third time’s a charm, right?
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk is set to unveil the Tesla Model Y later today in what is being billed as the company’s attempt to appeal to the mass market. The electric SUV will be about 10% bigger and more expensive than the Model 3, whose prices were recently cut to $35,000 per unit. Musk was yesterday embroiled in a row with America’s financial regulator, after suggesting it was overreaching by seeking to hold him in contempt over a tweet in which Musk corrected Tesla’s production rate to a lower figure than was accurate.
Italy’s prime minister has signalled he is ready to sign a trade deal with China against the wishes of the US. Prime minister Giuseppe Conte said Italy’s agreement to the Belt and Road Initiative would prompt “balanced and mutually beneficial co-operation”, benefitting Italian ports such as Trieste and Genoa. Critics of the infrastructure deal, including the US, have expressed concerns that it favours Chinese companies and could force partner countries into debt. (£)
Beto O’Rouke has confirmed his plans to run for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 US presidential election. Although yet to announce officially, O’Rourke revealed his intentions in an interview last night with a local television station in El Paso, where he sat as a congressman from 2013 until January this year. The announcement follows months of speculation after the former Texas congressman narrowly lost to Ted Cruz in the US Senate elections in November 2018. (£)
Business & Economy
Boeing has grounded its entire global fleet of 737 MAX 8s and 9s following an aircraft crash in Ethiopia on Sunday. The company issued the temporary suspension “out of an abundance of caution”, having consulted with the US Federal Aviation Administration and National Safety Board. The move follows an announcement by President Trump to ground the aircrafts in US airspace yesterday. Meanwhile, Norwegian Air is demanding compensation from Boeingfor losses incurred as a result of the groundings.
The Times reports that Innogy is considering winding down Npower following the collapse of its proposed merger with SSE last year. Innogy chief financial officer, Bernhard Guenther, introduced the proposals yesterday whilst announcing full-year results at Npower, which saw losses in 2018 deepen to €72 million in 2018 from €63 million in the previous year. Npower is already expected to lose about €250 million in 2019 as a result of the government’s cap on standard tariffs.
Sports Direct has offered Debenhams an alternate £150 million financing dealin a bid to prevent the department store entering into administration. Sport Direct said the loan would be “guaranteed to be interest-free” if Debenhams issues it five per cent new shares and appoints Mike Ashley as director chief executive. The offer follows revelations last week that Debenhams’ board had “deliberately misled” investors on profit forecasts, leading Ashley to call for the board’s removal.
What happened yesterday?
Anticipation that parliament would vote against the prospect of a no-deal Brexit led both the London market and pound sterling higher during Wednesday’s trading. By close of play, the FTSE 100 was 0.11% higher at 7,159.19 points while the pound was 1.13% stronger on the US dollar at $1.32 and by 0.96% on the euro at €1.17.
In corporate news, Standard Life Aberdeen (up 2.37%) was sitting pretty at the top of the day’s gainers list after the asset manager posted a dip in full-year pre-tax profit but a 19% rise in IFRS profit attributable to equity holders. Investors also responded well to news that it is ending its co-chief executive set-up, with Martin Gilbert vacating his position to become group vice chairman.
Prudential (up 1.14%) was another financial stock on the up as it reported a jump in annual profits on the back of solid growth in its Asia business and an investor update to plans for a spin-off of its UK savings and investment arm.
More lacklustre performances were put in by Hikma Pharmaceuticals (down 4.29%), which suffered after missing analysts’ expectations for its full-year core operating profits report, and Wm Morrison Supermarkets (up 0.60%). The latter lost ground later in trading despite declaring a special dividend on top of its full-year pay-out after a third consecutive year of strong sales and profit growth.
Capital & Regional
Capital Drilling Ltd. (DI)
Oakley Capital Investments Ltd. (DI)
Brooks Macdonald Group
Kin and Carta
Blackrock Income And Growth Investment Trust
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA
Henderson Opportunities Trust
Octopus Titan VCT
UK Economic Announcements
(08.30) Halifax House Price Index
Intl. Economic Announcements
(07.00) Consumer Price Index (GER)
(12:30) Continuing Claims (US)
(12:30) Import and Export Price Indices (US)
(12:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(12:30) Retail Sales (US)
(14:00) Business Inventories (US)
(14:00) New Homes Sales (US)
Columns of Note
Various Times columnists give their predictions for Brexit, and what might happen next. Bruno Waterfield suggests that three options are now available – revocation of article 50, another referendum, or a softer Brexit – the latter two of which would require an extension until 2020. Hugo Rifkind, meanwhile, points out that nobody knows what’s going on. His favourite theory, “is that the ERG are sleeper agents for Remain, in the manner of Snape in Harry Potter.” (£)
Also in The Times, Simon Duke asks what it will take for agreement to be found on how to tackle the problem of Big Tech? He looks at the proposals touted by Jason Furman, a former economic adviser to President Obama who supports tighter regulation to the extent of a regulator being able to block future acquisitions if they are seen to hamper competition or curb innovation. (£)
Did you know?
Preston, Lancashire is home to the second-largest bus terminal in the world after Moscow.
House of Commons
International Trade (including Topical Questions)
Women and Equalities (including Topical Questions)
Business Questions to the Leader of the House - Andrea Leadsom
Debate on a Motion relating to the NICE appraisal processes for rare diseases - Liz Twist
Clyde House and A2Dominion - Justine Greening
House of Lords
Levels of council tax in England announced for 2019–20 - Lord Greaves
Completion of the fair funding review to set new baseline funding allocations for local authorities on the basis of relative needs and resources - Baroness Thornhill
Standards and certifications for the algorithms used in decision-taking by public authorities and agencies - Lord Clement-Jones
Number of companies who have have signed non-disclosure agreements with the government in relation to Brexit - Baroness Wheatcroft
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No. 2) Bill - Second reading and remaining stages - Lord Bates
Orders and regulations
First Ministers’ Questions
Settled Status Scheme for EU Citizens in Scotland – Annabelle Ewing
Scottish Government Debate
Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 2019
International Women’s Day 2019: Balance for Better
Post-legislative Scrutiny of the Freeedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 – Publc Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee
House of Commons
Private Members’ Bills
House of Lords
House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill [HL] - Report stage - Lord Grocott
Cohabitation Rights Bill [HL] - Second reading - Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames
No business scheduled