Don’t keep quiet about Brexit


June 26, 2018

Brexit is coming, whether you like it or not. In the interests of full disclosure, I don’t. There won’t be a second referendum. There isn’t enough desire for it, despite last weekend’s march, and it doesn’t look like there will be between now and March.

After that, the question would have to be ‘Do you want to rejoin the EU?’ And that’s a very different prospect because we’d need to be part of the Euro, we wouldn’t have the rebate, we wouldn’t have the Maastricht exceptions and so on.

It’s happening. When we wake up on Saturday 30th March 2019, the UK will no longer be in the EU.

Next steps?

There will be a – as yet undefined – transition period that will involve some – as yet undefined – UK/EU integration. No one knows exactly what shape that will take or what the implications will be.

One very distinguished commentator, Sir Mark Boleat, last week said that the current most likely scenario would cost the City and related businesses around 75,000 jobs and the Treasury £10bn in lost tax revenue. It’s worth reading the speech he gave last week: it’s here.

That’s just one industry, however big it is. Whether you think Brexit is going to have a positive or negative impact, the one sure thing is that it will have an impact on every single industry. What is not clear is what that impact will be.

It’s easy to blame the Government for that lack of clarity. As an aside, it is also correct to blame the Government because the Brexit preparations have been a shambles. Another speech worth reading is George Bridges talking about ‘a gangplank into thin air’. He was a minister in DExEU until he became deeply frustrated with the process, so he knows what he’s talking about.

Don’t just blame May

However, it’s overly simplistic just to blame the Government. At the end of his speech, Sir Mark made the point that businesses have, by and large, stayed out of the Brexit debate because the referendum opened up so many pernicious divides and very few companies want to be involved in that.

There’s no doubt a lot of work has gone into Brexit planning but very few business leaders are talking about their plans, about how they see their industry operating post-Brexit. Airbus, BMW and Unipart have only very recently taken the plunge but that’s pretty much it so far.

That has left a vacuum and it looks like the Government isn’t competent to fill it.

There is a business opportunity

Despite the challenges of the debate, businesses have to recognise their duty to engage, to discuss the best outcome for them – within the reality of the UK leaving the EU – and to lay out what post-Brexit UK will actually be like.

This is an opportunity to provide some of that missing clarity, to lead the debate where no one else is either able or willing. It is an opportunity to shape this discussion, not just sit quietly with a watching brief, and to influence the Government’s next moves. They seem to be operating in the dark: help them make Brexit as good as it can be.

It’s more than just business; I used the word ‘duty’ carefully. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say this is the biggest change in my lifetime. If I’d been born seven months earlier, I would have been alive when we joined the European Community but that was a much more measured and orderly change.

Now isn’t the time to hold back and just see what happens. We’ve got 195 working days until the UK leaves the EU. Businesses and their leaders need to start talking about it now to help shape the debate and the UK’s future.

Make every one of those days count.