Vicky Pryce tells Bishop's Stortford bosses Boris Johnson will 'twist and turn' to avoid a no-deal Brexit
A leading economist told Bishop's Stortford Chamber of Commerce that the country needs a magician to bounce back from the brink of a hard Brexit – and Boris Johnson is the candidate with the magic wand.
Vicky Pryce, a staunch Remainer, gave chamber members her insight on the race to become the country's next Prime Minister during a talk at Bishop's Stortford Golf Club titled "Brexit and the Economy – Business Planning in a Period of Uncertainty".
The 66-year-old Athens-born economist was joint head of the UK Government Economics Service and director general for economics at the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), now the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
She was also previously partner and chief economist at KPMG, and sits on the BEIS panel monitoring the economy and is on City AM's shadow monetary policy committee.
Ms Pryce told chamber members that in a world where international markets can shift dramatically based on the tweets of the president of the USA and where Donald Trump threatens sanctions on the hoof, it was doubly hard for small and medium-sized enterprises to formulate an export strategy with confidence.
That was compounded by continuing question marks over Brexit and whether the UK will broker an agreement with the EU or leave with no deal by the latest extended deadline of October 31.
She said: "You do not invest if you are uncertain about what trading environment you will have. You hire people instead. If you do not invest, productivity goes down."
Britain's poor productivity since the financial crash – a 20% drop – was second in Europe only to Italy's dismal performance, she added.
She said that since the EU Referendum and the vote to leave in June 2016, the Bank of England estimated that the country's economy had grown 3% less than it would have otherwise.
She said: "You need a magician to turn things around."
When the boss of Bishop's Stortford's Business Kinetics, Bob Lee, asked her which of the candidates vying to become Tory leader – and thereby the next PM – was best placed to perform such a conjuring trick, she named former London mayor and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
He and current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt – the choice of Bishop's Stortford MP Mark Prisk – face a ballot of Conservative party members.
Ms Pryce claimed Mr Johnson never expected the country to vote for Brexit, despite leading the Leave campaign. She now disbelieves his leadership campaign assurances that if he gets the keys to 10 Downing Street on July 22, the UK will leave the EU at the end of October, no matter what.
She said: "He knows it's not good for the economy and he knows that a no deal would be disastrous for the economy."
She claimed he would "twist and turn" to avoid the cliff-edge departure dreaded by UK plc.
"Boris Johnson wants to be Winston Churchill," she said. "He wants a successful economy and he will need business."
Ms Pryce has been close to the corridors of power in Westminster.
She worked with Boris Johnson's younger brother Jo, Conservative MP for Orpington in Kent and a staunch Remainer, who last November resigned as minister for London and as a transport minister so he could be free to endorse a People's Vote.
Her former second husband, Chris Huhne, was Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh in Hampshire and served as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change from 2010 to 2012 in the coalition government.
The couple hit the headlines in March 2013 when they were sentenced to eight months in prison for perverting the course of justice. In 2003 Ms Pryce had accepted driving licence penalty points actually incurred by her husband, then an MEP, for speeding on the M11.