National Institute Economic Review

Prospects for the UK economy: Forecast Summary

  • The decisive result of the general election has reduced political uncertainty, but elevated economic uncertainty is likely to persist until the details of the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU are settled.
  • The March Budget is expected to be focused on ‘levelling up’ income levels across the United Kingdom. But additional public investment of up to around £20 billion per year is unlikely to have more than a modest impact on productivity and is not expected to offset the negative effect of Brexit.

The economic impact of Prime Minister Johnson's New Brexit Deal

On 17 October 2019, the UK government and its EU counterparts concluded a renegotiation of the previous withdrawal agreement and political declaration which sets out the framework for their future relationship. The government hoped that this would enable the UK to leave the EU on 31 October 2019 and then, after a transition period lasting to the end of 2020, trade with the EU under a free trade agreement (FTA) while negotiating new trading arrangements with other countries.

 

Improving governance

Government post-Brexit will face sustained and difficult challenges as the UK adjusts to its new situation. Yet these challenges risk being exacerbated by fundamental changes in UK political debate that are affecting the perceived legitimacy and effectiveness of the system and structures of government.

Effective devolution

Brexit creates deep challenges for the UK’s structure of governance; not least concerning the degree and manner in which powers are devolved within one of the most centralised countries in the world. Departing from the EU is likely to exacerbate regional inequalities and possibly social divide, while at the same time leading to further centralisation of powers, at least in the short term. Most Brexit analysis looks at the reorientation of the UK’s external relationships, but the most significant impact may be on its internal constitutional affairs.

Reducing inequalities

A backlash against numerous inequalities – and in particular against perceived unfairness in society – is a significant driver of the UK’s current political malaise. Addressing inequalities between income groups, regions and generations will thus be key to re-establishing faith in government and avoiding further decline or even the threat of social unrest.  

Redesigning housing policy

Discussion of the UK’s housing crisis is of long date, and tends to focus on a simple story about a mismatch in housing supply and demand and the consequent need to build more homes. Yet the reality is more complex with multiple sub-plots including social housing, stress in the private rented sector, benefits, subsidies and ultimately taxation of home ownership.
 

Improving infrastructure

Infrastructure investment can substantially increase a nation’s capital stock and thereby boost productive, or supplyside, potential. It can also be useful as a tool in macroeconomic stabilisation, while public spending on quality infrastructure projects has been shown to have significantly greater multiplier effects than tax cuts – so the case for an increasing spend is not undermined by a country’s overall debt level.

Securing decarbonisation and growth

The need to decarbonise the economy in order to slow the pace of climate change is now recognised as one of the most pressing international policy challenges. While the UK cannot by itself materially affect global climate change, it has an opportunity to play an influential role, both by persuading others of the need for action but also by reshaping its domestic economy to benefit from a low-carbon transition. 

Formulating industrial policy

Alongside the challenge of maintaining economic competitiveness in the face of great uncertainty, Brexit brings an opportunity for the government to set out a new industrial strategy. The case for doing so rests on the need to address areas of persistent structural weakness in the UK economy, including low productivity.

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