The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has chosen an outspoken critic of Brexit as the next member of the Bank of England’s interest rate-setting committee.
Dr Swati Dhingra, an associate professor at the London School of Economics who has previously called on the government to “cancel Brexit”, will join the monetary policy committee (MPC) in August, arriving during one of the most difficult periods faced by the central bank.
An Indian-born academic who gained a PhD in the US before moving to the UK, Dhingra will join just as inflation is expected to be heading above 10% and the economy could be sliding into recession.
The first Asian woman to be appointed to the role, her arrival means one-third of the nine-strong policymaking group are women, for the first time since 2005. That number has never been surpassed, leaving the Bank some way short of gender parity.
Dhingra and her colleagues at LSE have tracked the relationship between the UK and its continental neighbours since the 2016 Brexit vote and in successive reports found the economic damage to be considerable.
Before the parliamentary vote in December 2019 to leave the EU single market and customs union, Dhingra wrote with a colleague in LSE’s Brexit Economics series: “From an economic perspective, the best policy would be to cancel Brexit.”
With Tory MPs and cabinet members bristling at claims that much of the UK’s inflation increase can be blamed on Brexit’s negative impact on trade and immigration, her appointment is likely to prove controversial.
Her broader research into the UK’s trade links with China and the far east and US means she will bring a wealth of expertise about Britain’s challenges as it searches for new export markets.
The search for expertise in specialist areas to fill the four external places on the MPC – the other five are taken by central bank staff – is a continuing trend. In 2018 the Treasury appointed Jonathan Haskel, an economist at Imperial College, to bolster the committee’s understanding of worker productivity.
Dhingra will replace the former City economist Michael Saunders when his term finishes. Saunders, known for voting to increase interest rates when his colleagues have preferred to keep them low, was outvoted in this month’s MPC meeting when he was among three members to say there should be a 0.5% increase and not the 0.25% rise that the majority agreed.
Dhingra is expected to be more cautious amid a cost of living crisis that could be made worse by increasing the cost of borrowing. She will serve a three-year term, which can be extended to a maximum of six years by the chancellor.
She said: “The work of the committee is of great importance as the UK faces an exceptional cost of living crisis amid the global challenges of the pandemic and the war.”
Dhingra studied for her undergraduate degree at the University of Delhi. She received a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US and was a fellow at Princeton.
“Dr Swati Dhingra’s experience in international economics will bring valuable new expertise to the MPC,” Sunak said.
The Bank of England governor, Andrew Bailey, said: “I am very pleased to be welcoming Dr Swati Dhingra to the MPC later this year. Her insights and perspective will be hugely beneficial to all of our discussions and we will benefit from her extensive research in international economics.