Why the Autumn Statement won’t help the City solve the enigma of Philip Hammond

Tim Focas
Chancellor Philip Hammond Addresses Party Conference
Philip Hammond remains something of an enigma (Source: Getty)

We know he is not one for Osborne-style soundbites, and if his October speech at Tory conference is anything to go by, he should keep the Ed Balls gags to himself! He is, admittedly going on very little so far, a man with an “eye for the detail” and a “safe pair of hands” that fits perfectly into May’s non-Cameron style of government.

When Hammond hits the dispatch box next Wednesday, it is widely expected he will deviate from hard austerity, and there are also amends due to pensions and the Help to Buy Scheme. A shift away from these policies, which were the cornerstone of Osborne’s tenure, is all well and good.

However, there is a sense that the Autumn Statement will do little, if anything, to tell us whether Hammond is the right man to address the bigger picture economic challenges that lie ahead.

Not only does the new chancellor need to find a way to plug a £25bn hole in the public finances, he also has to play a crucial role in shaping what Brexit will look like. But is a “safe pair of hands” what’s really required to fight Britain’s corner at the negotiation table?

Read more: The Brexit bill? Chancellor expected to announce £100bn black hole in Autumn Statement

Last week’s US election proved we live in a political era where the brave, bold and brash are taking the spoils. With this in mind, one has to wonder whether Philip Hammond has the right personality for the job.

Take the issue of potentially losing passporting rights and full access to the Single Market, something keeping the City wide awake at night. The chancellor’s recent comments that the “government is acutely aware” of the importance of banking to the UK economy did little to ease the City’s fears.

What the financial services industry craves is certainty, and this can only come from a chancellor that is willing to provide more direct indicators that the UK will not accept anything other than unfettered access to the common market and cross-border transactions. After all, anything less than an agreement along these lines would hit market confidence and growth across Europe, not the UK.

So this time next week, unless more positive indicators on exactly what Britain’s economic relationship with the EU will look like, the City will continue to be puzzled by this new enigma of a chancellor.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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