Today was meant to both draw a line under Brexit and move onto the domestic front, with Philip Hammond’s speech this morning and an announcement on housebuilding. However, a quick glance at the media shows that Brexit still completely dominates the picture. As we have been saying for some time, the UK looks even more clearly like it is heading for a hard Brexit, with May’s speech yesterday promising Article 50 by the end of March, and no concessions over UK control over immigration from the EU.
Domestically the main housebuilding announcement has largely been seen (correctly) as reannoucing previous policies – the £5 billion fund announced is largely existing money, while the policies to get suitable brownfield sites developed are already announced Cameron and Osborne era policies with a little more detail on top. The tone however of the press release was interesting – continuing to talk about developers not building sites out fast enough and implying government concern is mounting.
Philip Hammond has already announced that he is not likely to follow Osborne’s goal of a surplus by 2020 (that’s 12 years after the last recession began). The briefing is that his speech may add a little more detail to this, but it seems no major new announcements are planned. While something may appear last minute, and it is a welcome change to try to ensure that government is not led by media announcements, there is a balance to be struck – part of the way that Whitehall actually delivers any kind of strategy at all is forcing commitments from the government machine via public announcements.
Given May has said rightly said she is determined not just to focus on Brexit, conference goers will want to see some more policy outside of Europe over the next 72 hours. With May’s key Conference speech on Weds apparently still seeing changes even at this late stage, the question is how much more detail and direction beyond Brexit will we see?