Terence James O’Neill of Gatley, former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, ex-Tory minister, and currently an Honorary Professor of Economics at the University of Manchester, said that Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are, simply, “clueless” about economics. 

In his interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, he said: “[Gove and Johnson are] very intellectual, smart people. But they have no clue about the world economy. They are clueless, sadly. Clueless.” O’Neill attacked Gove and BoJo, who sold Brexit as an opportunity for limitless trade deals, for their lack of knowledge about trade and economics, basically, confirming our suspicion, that Johnson and Gove were “slightly” exaggerating when they were promising us Britannia as a global trade force on a golden platter. Partaking in such abundance, sounded too good to be true, because, it wasn’t. Brexiteer paroxysms and nationalist pride evaporated the moment politicians sat to discuss what Brexit really meant. And, they are still discussing.

O’Neill resigned from being the Tory whip in 2017 after quitting his position as a Chancellor to protest against Theresa May’s decision not to support Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse” proposal to boost economic growth in the North of England. 

China as a trading partner

He is best known for coining the acronym BRIC to refer to Brazil, Russia, India and China as the four rapidly developing countries which are disturbing the established economic power of the G7 economies. He pointed out that Germany, the biggest economy of the EU, has now China as its trading partner: “International trade is determined by three factors. Distance is number one. Then, and that’s the area where China gets meaning, the size of the market. Third, competitiveness.” 

He added: “One of the most interesting statistics I’ve seen this year was the one that is Germany’s most important trading partner now China. The question of whether or not we are a member of the EU is nothing but a diversionary tactic. Anyone who wants to do good on international trade can do that. So we can do that too, including with the EU, if we do it skilfully and sensibly.”

Within this context, he finds the Brexiteers lack of economic plan ridiculous, especially Johnson and Liam Fox’s attempts to improve trade with Commonwealth countries whose economies are very small: 

“This whole thing with the Commonwealth is just shameful. These are all beautiful countries, but .... India may promise something else. But when the Brexitians speak of the Commonwealth, they mean Australia, Canada and New Zealand. New Zealand’s economy is smaller than Greece’s.

It’s kind of fantasy. This year, China is going to grow by 6.7 per cent. In nominal GDP-dollar terms, China will create a new Australia this year. It will create 4 New Zealands this year. And Liam Fox and our ludicrous foreign minister spend half of their life going to New Zealand. It’s crazy, crazy.”

O’Neill criticised May for not being aware of China and the opportunities of trade: “Within a week of the [EU] referendum the Chinese approached us about a free trade agreement. Under Cameron and Osborne they would have had that discussion 15 months ago....The Prime Minister has failed to visit China at all. Okay, she was there once for a G-20 meeting, but embarrassingly there have been no bilateral talks to date. She was twice in Saudi Arabia. Not in China.”

At the moment, Liam Fox, the secretary of state for international trade, is visiting China and meeting with government officials and business leaders. A spokesman for the Department for International Trade said: “The International Trade Secretary is visiting China, our fifth largest trade partner, this week as we look beyond the boundaries of Europe to build independent trading relationships with the rest of the world.”

Fox remarked that Brexit was “a great opportunity to embrace,” and O’Neill seems to concur: “Brexit may not be the disaster we fear,” he added. Despite the fact that many politicians are lacking, they are “neither very clever nor sensible,” there is a possibility that Britain can grow “thanks largely to global economic development. After all, we do not live in a vacuum.” He pointed out that, “if the pound becomes slightly stronger again, the negative impact on consumers would be reduced. Then it would be quite possible that the economy would be pleasantly surprised. That would be ironic, of course, because the Brexiteers could say ‘there you see it’.”

Tran-Pacific Partnership

The UK is in talks to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, consisting of 11 countries, including Canada and Japan.

Although for many anti-Brexit politicians, such a partnership cannot substitute for an EU trade deal, Brexiteers are highlighting the step as significant. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable tweeted: “Jim O'Neill right to say that leading Brexiteers are clueless about world economy. Far-flung trade deals will never compensate for leaving the world's largest market sitting on our doorstep.”

According to the Financial Times’ article “The post-Brexit deals that Britain needs to prioritise,” the question on whether “trade with other countries can substitute for what might be lost by Britain with the EU after the UK leaves the bloc,” remains open. But the article does agree with O’Neill, that when it comes to trade, size matters: “Larger, richer economies provide a more promising marketplace for UK goods and services than do smaller, poorer ones. Global economic change happens slowly. Even in 30 years’ time, the US, the EU and China are predicted to remain the largest economic powerhouses and therefore important targets for exports.” However, for the FT, the EU will still remain the “most promising destination for British exports in 2050,” despite of emerging markets’ rapid economic growth.