Evening Standard comment: Chancellor is right to warn on hard Brexit risk | Car charging needs boost | Lauda’s final victory lap

EVENING STANDARD COMMENT
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In normal circumstances, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, could tell a powerful story when he speaks at the CBI annual dinner tonight. He could talk about jobs and wages — which have gone up.

He could talk about inflation — which is under control. He could talk about public sector net borrowing — which has fallen since 2010. He could talk about an economy that’s growing. And all these things are real.

But there’s a reason attention is elsewhere, and the Chancellor identifies this reason himself in his speech: populists on the Right are pushing a hard Brexit despite knowing it would “inflict damage on our economy and our living standards”.

As the OECD warns today, one of the reasons UK economic output has been sustained is that companies have been stockpiling ahead of a possible no-deal exit.

That’s not real growth but a mirage, and it comes at a price that we will pay in the future: business investment, which will underpin future growth, has fallen sharply, for instance.

The housing market is stagnant. Sterling has dropped in value again — today it fell below $1.27 to the dollar for the first time since January.

These are all signs that the Chancellor’s warnings are needed.

“We have an absolute obligation to protect Britain’s jobs, businesses and future prosperity,” Mr Hammond says. Of course that’s always true.

But the threats he ought to be free to focus on are the big strategic challenges facing the world.

One is the escalating trade war between the United States and China, which has just seen Chinese phone maker Huawei restricted from Google’s Android operating system. Another is the rising oil price. A third is the risk of a sharpening downturn in the financial markets.

Instead, the Chancellor is facing something even more pressing: the perilous allure of a no-deal Brexit to many on the Right of his party.

They think they can ignore him. But they are wrong.


Car charging needs boost

Everyone agrees that London needs cleaner air. Everyone agrees that electric vehicles are part of the answer.

So why is finding a place to charge them still so tricky?

Go to a garage and it’s simple to understand how to fill up a petrol car. But buy an electric vehicle and things get complex.

True, the capital has a fast-growing network of charge points, some of which can be reserved in advance. But coverage outside inner London is still far too thin and not every borough has joined up.

Competing operators and differing charge speeds also make switching to electric much more confusing than it should be.

It’s no wonder that some people are put off.

This needs sorting out. News comes today that Addison Lee is trying out London’s first all-electric minicabs — and hybrid black taxis are already a common sight.

But there are only 150 rapid chargers for them to use — the sort that are essential to keep them on the road.

The most polluting private cars are being priced off the roads, and electric is the obvious replacement, but people won’t switch unless it is easy to charge up.

Fitting systems in an old city such as London isn’t simple but places such as Paris and Amsterdam are doing far better.

We are being left behind.


Lauda’s final victory lap

In 2013, the movie Rush set cinema seats shaking with the roar of racing engines and brought to the screen one of the great rivalries in sport.

The 1976 battle for the Formula One title between Niki Lauda and James Hunt was a one-off: perilous machines mixed with human drama to produce sensation.

Both men survived that season — just — but with news of Lauda’s death yesterday both now are gone.

The Austrian racer was not only a champion but a man who went on to shape his sport and founded an airline.

Motor sport is safer these days and has found new heroes — but the contests of the late Seventies will always be definitive.