Life beyond the 29th March...

By Patrick White

In my experience lots of periods of change have particular inflection points, or moments when the overall direction becomes clear, even if only for a few minutes, before the fog of debate, war, negotiation or whatever it is comes down again. 

My view remains that the the PM will get a variation of the Brexit deal through on a second vote.  Every EU negotiation I’ve known goes down to the last few hours and it is in no ones interest for there to be a no deal (not even the ERG really, as it would jeopardise their project).  So the most likely outcome is a deal.

Look at the FT today. The chancellor saying basically “it will happen right at the end of March but we will get this sorted because we have to  (page 1) and businesses moaning about not being able to care for the environment or make food healthier because they are too busy stock piling magnum ice creams or something equally short term (page 2).


For those of us who remember the year 2000 this all feels very familiar.  Total hyping up of worry, often used by firms and individuals to justify poor results and lazy behaviour by running around after a distraction, followed by a complete and utter non event. 

Or, conversely, the 2008/09 crash, when despite a load of evidence through 2007/08 that the global economy was wobbling, everyone kept on piling in investment and government kept borrowing, until the ultimate outcome became both inevitable and hotly denied by everyone with an interest. I remember being in a room full of senior financiers and business people who were all blaming the BBC for talking the country down. 

In both cases the end point had been set long before everyone had a furious debate about the alternatives.

If, as I strongly suspect will happen,  Parliament votes for a deal before 29th March, we extend article 50 for a few months and have a two year transition then we will see a remarkably similar arc to this story.  Nothing much will have actually changed, apart from the fact that some forex traders will have done well and a whole load of decisions about investment, productivity and improving business practice will have been successfully ducked by a large number of badly performing British businesses for another year. 

At the same time, we may have been distracted enough by the shrill voices of the short term drama to take our eye off the long term.  This matters, because of the risk that decisions to meet short term concerns fail to take account of the long term trends that will change our trading and economic positions.  Get these big calls on investment now wrong and we risk continuing to fragment the economic logic of the UK, leading to even greater pressures on the Union.

The year 2000 nonsense saw everyone ignoring the long term effects of digital technology.  Our response in 2009 failed to deal with long term productivity challenges. Brexit in the short term may not be anywhere near as bad as some fear, but the long term outlook for the economy As a whole could be much worse, regardless of what happens in the next few weeks and months.

So never mind MPs “holding their nerve” it’s more important than ever that local leaders keep the focus in arguing for investment in long term projects - both capital investment and preventative or skills interventions for communities.  Deal or no deal, it’s what our cities need. Give a nod to uncertainty yes, but don’t let the short-termists be a distraction.