26 May 2019

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1 April 2019

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Enough is enough

I have done my best to avoid discussing the B word for as long as possible, but as things continue to drag on, the damage being done by Brexit can no longer be ignored
Enough is enough

Brexit is an inflammatory issue, whichever side of the debate one sits. Over the past two years, this publication has had a policy of attempting to focus on the issues and policies that relate specifically to infrastructure and private investment when it comes to the UK and Europe – on the basis that whatever will happen on the Brexit front will happen and the industry will have to adapt.

However, after recent events, it has become almost impossible to escape the fact that what is currently happening on Brexit is having a material effect on the infrastructure investment sector on both sides of the Channel and will continue to do so long after the UK does finally exit the EU (if, indeed, it ever does – and the political ramifications of not doing so would, I believe, also have a huge bearing on British stability).

We have all known for the past two years that Brexit has been acting like a black hole for all other ideas and efforts. Officials within the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) and elsewhere may insist they are busy working on various initiatives, but privately some accept that getting ministers to focus on any policies not related to Brexit has been hard work. Just look at the fact that we continue to wait (more in hope than expectation) for approval of Community Health Partnerships' new Regional Health Infrastructure Companies (RHICs, once known as Project Phoenix).

Meanwhile, the private sector has been eyeing the UK with a high level of uncertainty ever since the vote came in, and the European Investment Bank still does not know whether it will be able to continue investing in the UK.

All this was supposed to have been sorted out by now, and whether or not one agreed with Brexit, there should have at least been some certainty about Britain and Europe's future.

Instead, we have a delay that could become a longer delay, and remain facing the prospect of no deal being reached and the UK crashing out at some point (at this stage, suggesting particular dates seems futile).

In the UK, we have a government that is apparently incapable of negotiating not only with others across the political divide, but even with itself (how else to explain a minister commending a motion to the House, before voting against it seconds later?)

And, of course, we have a cast of political theatricalists whose only focus is their own personal gain. Jacob Rees-Mogg – a man who is still talked about as a possible leader of both the Tories and even the country – spent some time during one of the recent Brexit debates discussing the benefits of being schooled at Eton over Winchester. This is a 49-year-old man who left school over three decades ago.

Then there is Boris Johnson, who went from vigorously opposing Prime Minister Theresa May's deal to deciding to vote in favour of it, once he realised getting it across the line would see May leave office and open the door to his own ambitious cravings.

Johnson, of course, has since been singing the praises of a 'no deal' Brexit, like his fellow Brexiteer, Nigel Farage (who seemed aghast that the deal – or treaty, as he described it – was worse than if the UK had remained a member state. As if anything else were possible).

But to bring this back round to infrastructure, what neither these men, nor the others who are baying for no-deal, seem to realise (or, perhaps more accurately, care about), is that Britain leaving the EU without any deal will inevitably result in delays to deliveries and, indeed, investment. It will potentially mean companies unable to manage without raw materials facing dire economic consequences as building work comes to a temporary pause while the border issues are resolved.

It will also mean it will be much harder – and much less attractive – for companies to invest in the UK, and vice versa, as the way in which Britain and mainland Europe has interacted for the past 30 years and more will be brought to a shuddering halt.

Unfortunately, I believe that many of those who did vote for Brexit, essentially voted for a 'no deal' scenario, albeit without the facts of what that would mean in practice – particularly on day one, and every other day until treaties to resolve the wide variety of incomings and outgoings across British borders with EU nations can be agreed.

Farage may not be a fan of treaties, but he is not the one whose business will suffer when there is no mechanism for getting raw materials, workers or investment from one side of the Channel to the other.

The problem the UK now faces, of course, is that it has very little room for manoeuvre. The Opposition has no credible alternative plan (or, for that matter, credible leadership), and if politicians refuse to accept that whatever deal agreed with the EU is to be inevitably worse than full membership, the stalemate looks set to continue.

That is bad news for everyone. There is view taken in politics that those in power will respond to any significant event by declaring that 'something must be done', whether it is within their power to make a difference or not.

In this case, something really must be done, and it is very much within the power of those in charge to make a difference. At present, though, it seems unlikely that any are willing to act in the national interest and would much prefer to score political points and focus on the job of climbing the greasy pole.

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I have done my best to avoid discussing the B word for as long as possible, but as things continue to drag on, the damage being done by Brexit can no longer be ignored

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