Gurría: ‘Brexit damage is only beginning’

Gurría campaigned "very strongly" against the 'brexit', he recalled. [OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development/Flickr]

British Prime Minister Theresa May will address the World Economic Forum today (19 January) to try and convince the global elite of the soundness of her Brexit plan. A staunch critic of Brexit in the past, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría now offers his support to the British government to minimise the damage caused by the break-up.

Angel Gurría is an economist and diplomat. He is a former minister of foreign affairs and finance of Mexico. He has been the secretary-general of the OECD since 2006.

Gurría spoke to EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

What is your view on Theresa May’s aspirations for the UK outside the EU, outlined last Tuesday (17 January)?

I lost, because I campaigned very strongly against Brexit. I am on record [against it]. We prepared a book. I made a big speech at the London School of Economics. I gave 20 interviews against, against, against. We estimated the damage. I believe the damage is only beginning. But the UK is also a member of the OECD. Therefore, we owe them something. We should put all our skills and all our capacities and knowledge about trade and investment flows at their service, and the rest of the European countries, to minimise the disruption as much as possible. We cannot do anything about the decision that was taken. I am only sorry that 60% of the young people that should have gone out to vote because their future was at stake did not show up.

Would you tell May that a soft Brexit is a better option?

One should not get trapped in these names and words. First, what everybody wants to know is how we can carry out the divorce in the least disruptive way. And then, at least, how we can build some kind of friendship, alliance, if not marriage again. Second, there are issues not only like free trade, free investment flows or free movement of people that have to be negotiated. In the end, everybody shares the same concerns.

Speaking of concerns, are you worried about the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House?

We are an evidence-based organisation. We work with the duly appointed, democratically elected representatives of our member countries. That means Mr Trump and his team. The question implies trying to guess what he is going to do, or his team, before they actually get into office, and take over the jobs and start talking to their partners. At that moment, they will express what they want to do, and will recognise some of their constrains. Then, they may find alternative ways to get what they are looking for. In sum, it is early.

Right now, what we want to do is to look at the different possibilities, the different scenarios. Once we start talking to him officially to discuss these different scenarios, and see what exactly they are seeking, we can produce alternatives in terms of how they can actually get it.

But some of his comments or his actions are already altering the world of politics and economics…

So far what you have is comments and tweets. What I am talking about is policies, legislation, regulations. As I said, we are an evidence-based institution. We have to take a hard look at what is actually happening, rather than what is maybe a part of the mood of the campaign that is still lingering there.

Spain is the only large eurozone country that will not have to go to the ballot box this year. Populism is not part of the political spectrum. The recovery is one of the most robust in Europe. Would you call ‘mission accomplished’? 

The need for reform is always there. Spain is doing better in growing and creating jobs because of the reforms it made four years ago. This shows you that it takes time for the reforms to produce results. Therefore, perseverance and staying the course are important. We were happy to see that there is going to be continuity in the government, that finally the country has resolved its political impasse. Now, there is going to be a more active legislative life, lets say.

Is this an outcome that you welcome?

This is the result of democratic decisions by the Spanish people. You take it as it comes, and you live with it. But again, you have to maintain the reform effort, including reforms of the reforms.

Subscribe to our newsletters