18 October 2018
Not much has been certain in the Brexit negotiations. The single confirmed fact was that in March 2019 the UK will leave the European Union, with the transition period ending at the end of 2020.
Now, even that fact is no longer certain.
Theresa May has today announced that a new idea has emerged in the negotiations that mean the transition period of two years could now be extended by a matter of months to avoid the backstop of a hard border in Northern Ireland. Many media outlets are reporting that this extension could be as long as an extra year.
Why is this a problem? Surely more time to iron out the creases is a good thing? I disagree. Of course, a hard border in Ireland is not a viable option but will extending the transition period really make a difference? Ultimately, the single most disruptive and dangerous thing in business is uncertainty. Today’s news brings yet more uncertainty.
The fear of the unknown is enough to derail an entire economy. At this point, we just need to get on with it. We’re leaving the Union – that’s decided. So let’s crack on. This back and forth throughout the negotiations puts us in an unwinnable situation.
We need to know what’s happening and deal with the fallout. Many business leaders who I have spoken to are not concerned about a hard or no-deal Brexit because they’re confident that the UK will get through it.
That being said, the looming possibility of something horrendous happening if these Brexit negotiations don’t go to plan, and the ongoing media frenzy around every matter in the process, is destroying business and consumer confidence as whole.
Confidence is key
What happens when confidence is low and there is uncertainty? Businesses invest less. Consumers shop less, meaning businesses take in less, and the cycle continues. We’re already seeing the impact of this – look at the Stock Exchange and the High Street.
On top of this, the more doubt there is, the more we’re going to see business leaders leaving the country and taking their money and tax with them. Of course, this means less investment in the UK and less going into the collective pot to put into roads, hospitals and schools.
Equally, our government has been hugely distracted by Brexit for more than two years, instead of putting the necessary focus and detail into our NHS, our education system and infrastructure. How much progress could we have made if the energy invested into Brexit had gone into our thriving country instead?
It’s undeniably a difficult situation but we are an incredibly strong country and economy; we should have entered these negotiations in a position of confidence. Instead, what we’re seeing looks apologetic and like we’re on the back foot.
I don’t have the answers to solve the Brexit conundrum but I do know that we need to stop dragging it out. We’ve already had two years where everything has been up in the air. Let’s get our feet back on the ground and do what we Brits do best – carry on.