On 20 February, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced the date for the referendum on whether the UK should remain in or leave the EU. It will be on 23 June. The announcement followed a deal with EU leaders over terms of UK membership of the EU. He will argue strongly in favour of staying in the EU, supported by many in his cabinet – but not all.
Two days later, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said that he would be campaigning for the UK to leave the EU.
In the meantime, Mr Johnson’s announcement, the stance of various politicians and predictions of the outcome of the referendum are having effects on markets.
One such effect is on the foreign exchange market. As the Telegraph article below states:
The pound suffered its biggest drop against the dollar in seven years after London Mayor Boris Johnson said he will campaign for Britain to leave the European Union [‘Brexit’].
Sterling fell by as much as 2.12pc to $1.4101 against the dollar on Monday afternoon, putting it on course for the biggest one day drop since February 2009. Experts said the influential Mayor’s decision made a British exit from the bloc more likely.
The pound also fell by as much as 1.2pc to €1.2786 against the euro and hit a two-year low against Japan’s yen.
This follows depreciation that has already taken place this year as predictions of possible Brexit have grown. The chart shows that from the start of the year to 23 February the sterling trade weighted index fell by 5.3% (click here for a PowerPoint).
But why has sterling depreciated so rapidly? How does this reflect people’s concerns about the effect of Brexit on the balance of payments and business more generally? Read the articles and try answering the questions below.
Pound in Worst Day Since Banking Crisis as `Brexit’ Fears Bite Bloomberg, Eshe Nelson (21/2/16)
Pound hits 7-year low on Brexit fears Finiancial Times, Michael Hunter and Peter Wells (22/2/16)
Pound in freefall as Boris Johnson sparks Brexit fears The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (22/2/16)
Pound falls below $1.39 as economists warn Brexit could hammer households The Telegraph, Peter Spence (24/2/16)
Why is the pound falling and what does it mean for households and businesses? The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (23/2/16)
Pound heading for biggest one-day fall since 2009 on Brexit fears BBC News (22/2/16)
Cameron tries to sell EU deal after London mayor backs Brexit Euronews, Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden (22/2/16)
EU referendum: Sterling suffers biggest fall since 2010 after Boris Johnson backs Brexit International Business Times, Dan Cancian (22/2/16)
Exchange rate data
Spot exchange rates against £ sterling Bank of England
- What are the details of the deal negotiated by David Cameron over the UK’s membership of the EU?
- Why did sterling depreciate in (a) the run-up to the deal on UK EU membership and (b) after the announcement of the date of the referendum?
- Why did the FTSE100 rise on the first trading day after the Prime Minister’s announcement?
- What is the relationship between the balance of trade and the exchange rate?
- What are meant by the ‘six-month implied volatility in sterling/dollar’ and the ‘six-month risk reversals’?
- Why is it difficult to estimate the effect of leaving the EU on the UK’s balance of trade?
A key debate for some months has been the UK’s membership of the European Union. The debate has centred around the desire to return some powers back to the UK, but this has extended into the possibility of a referendum on our membership of the preferential trading area. So, let’s take a step back and consider why any country would want to be a member of a preferential trading area.
Preferential trading areas can be as basic as a free trading area or as advanced as a currency, or even political union. The eurozone is clearly a currency union, but the European Union, of which the UK is a member, is a common market. A common market has no tariffs and quotas between the members, but in addition there are common external tariffs and quotas. The European union also includes the free movement of labour, capital and goods and services. Membership of a preferential trading area therefore creates benefits for the member countries. One such benefit is that of trade creation. Members are able to trade under favourable terms with other members, which yields significant benefits. Countries can specialise in the production of goods/services in which they have a comparative advantage and this enables greater quantities of output to be produced and then traded.
Other benefits include the greater competition created. By engaging in trade, companies are no longer competing just with domestic firms, but with foreign firms as well. This helps to improve efficiency, cut costs and thus lower prices benefiting consumers. However, from a firm’s point of view there are also benefits: they have access to a much wider market in which they can sell their goods without facing tariffs. This creates the potential for economies of scale to be achieved. Were the UK to completely exit the EU, this could be a significant loss for domestic firms and for consumers, who would no longer see the benefits of no tariffs on imported goods. Membership of a preferential trading area also creates benefits in terms of potential technology spillovers and is likely to have a key effect on a country’s bargaining power with the rest of the world. As is a similar argument to membership of a trade union, there is power in numbers.
There are costs of membership of a preferential trading area, but they are typically outweighed by the benefits. However, estimates suggest that the cost of EU regulation is the equivalent of 10% of UK GDP. Furthermore, while the UK certainly does trade with Europe, data suggests that only 13% of our GDP is dependent on such exports. The future is uncertain for the European Union and Britain’s membership. There are numerous options available besides simply leaving this preferential trading area, but they typically have one thing in common. They will create uncertainty and this is something that markets and investors don’t like. Vince Cable warned of this, saying:
There are large numbers of potential investors in the UK, who would bring employment here, who have been warned off because of the uncertainty this is creating.
The impact of the UK’s decision will be significant and not just for those living and working in the economy. The world is no interdependent that when countries exist (or typically enter) a preferential trading area the wider economic effects are significant. While any change in the UK’s relationship with the EU will take many months and years to occur and then further time to have an effect, the uncertainty created by the suggestion of a change in the relationship has already sent waves across the world. The following articles consider the wider single market and the current debate on UK membership.
European Union: if the ‘outs’ get their way, we’ll end up like Ukraine Guardian, Vince Cable (16/5/13)
Conservative MP James Wharton champions bill to guarantee EU referendum Independent, Andrew Grice (16/5/13)
Nick Clegg shifts ground over EU referendum The Guardian, Patrick Wintour (15/5/13)
Cameron tells EU rebels to back referendum law Reuters, Peter Griffiths (16/5/13)
The EU and the UK – the single market BBC Democracy (4/3/13)
Single market dilemmas on Europe BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (14/5/13)
Lord Wolfson: I back the single market – but not at any cost The Telegraph, Lord Wolfson (19/1/13)
EU focuses on returning single market to health Financial Times, James Fontanella-Khan (8/5/13)
- What other examples of preferential trading areas are there? How close are they to the arrangement of the European Union?
- In each of the above examples, explain the type of preferential trading area that it is.
- What are the benefits and costs of being a member of a preferential trading area such as the EU? How do these differ to being a member of a) a free trade area and (b) a customs union?
- What options are open to the UK in terms of re-negotiating its relationship with the EU? In each case, explain how the benefits and costs identified in question 3 would change.
- Why is the UK’s decision so important for the global economy? Would it be in the interests of other economies? Explain your answer.