There are still restrictions on how much money you can take in or out of the UK. You can’t move cash worth 10,000 euros or more (or the equivalent in another currency) without declaring it. And customs officers can seize your cash if they have reasonable grounds to suspect a crime.
Still, 10,000 euros is fine for the majority of us who aren’t money laundering. You’re unlikely to spend more than that on some lollies and sun cream on your beach holiday.
Yet, not so long ago, you were only allowed to take £50 out of the UK, per person, per year. That’s the equivalent of £700 today.
Still a fair amount of money, but you’d be hard pushed to keep the entire family in gravlax if you wanted to go to Finland for a fortnight then on to France.
Harold Wilson’s Labour government brought in the £50 limit in 1966 to try to narrow a huge balance of payments deficit. You had to take your passport along to the bank, where staff would mark the last page with the amount of foreign currency you had just bought there.
Condemned by some as “a typical piece of frustrating Socialism“, the limit did not have the huge impact it would today. Back then, far fewer of us hopped on a trans-Atlantic flight every five minutes.
The currency limit didn’t do much for the economy, though. Those of us who struggled through the three-day week and the Winter of Discontent certainly didn’t think that spending a few extra escudos or drachmas would make much of a difference to our financial woes. The government eventually realised that you couldn’t woo foreign investors to put money into Britain if they couldn’t get it out again.
Besides, Brits were busily stuffing fivers down their socks to get round the currency limit, or stuffing notes inside a cottage loaf.
In 1979, Thatcher’s government dismantled exchange controls. We are now free to buy as much gravlax as we like while in Finland.
Trebles all round!
The downside is, continuing financial liberalisation created deregulated markets on a global scale. And that led us step by step to the Great Recession of 2007. So yes, you can buy as much gravlax or as many croissants as you want. You just might not be able to afford them.
Take 50 quid out of the country? I should be so lucky.