I fully appreciate that by the time this is published the goal posts on Brexit will have been moved again. Right now MPs are debating as to whether the House should vote to take away the Brexit process out of the hands of the Government and into the hands of Parliament. Something that hasn’t happened since 1906.
I also fully appreciate that most people are rightly sick to the back teeth of hearing about it and reading about it on here. But, this is the single most important issue the UK is living through since WW2 and it affects every single person in every single industry, which very much includes our own. So whether we like it or not, we have to pay attention to it.
As I said, MPs are debating whether to take the legislative process away from Government. Something that has not happened in over 100 years. It says a lot for the handling of the whole process from start to finish. Should that pass, the House currently looks like it wants to then carry out a series of indicative but non-binding votes to see what the House can agree of by way of an alternative plan to the Prime Minister’s. It’s not clear at all that any of the 7 currently hypothesised alternatives could carry a majority. And the fact that they would be non-binding would mean the Government could always ignore it.
The Prime Minister has said that she won’t bring her deal back for a third vote unless she knows it has enough support. As it is, the DUP have said they won’t back it, which means much of the Tory party won’t, so that’s that. This then brings in what the EU said at the end of last week. They agreed that if the PM could get her deal passed, the UK could have an extension until May 22nd, not June 30th as was originally requested. No vote on her deal or a voting down of the deal for a third time would see that extension shortened to April 12th. Which is where we are now. This is now legal international law, so the UK won’t be leaving in any capacity on March 29th. Remind me to reset my clock on the DGB Brexit section.
Fast forward to the end of the week. We could have indicative votes on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and still end the week absolutely no clearer. From the commentators I have listened to they believe that this is the most likely outcome, as many of the 7 alternatives have already been debated and voted on in Parliament and have pretty much all been rejected. The major ones are plans like a second referendum, a General Election, a Customs Union etc, all of which have failed to pass.
So by Friday night, we are likely to be absolutely no further in the process. What would happen next? As I see it, pending changes during the week, the PM has a few options. She could go ask for a much longer extension, but would be bound to take part in the European elections. These would be held during our local elections in May. Given the anger from all sides with UK politics right now, I suspect that the Government fears an absolute battering, as do Labour, and could see a huge rise in the number of protest votes by disillusioned voters.
Another option would be to leave on April 12th without a deal. Parliament would hate it. A hefty chunk of the population would like it. A large part would also hate it. However, it could actually be the only way Brexit could be delivered and have a line drawn under this part of the process once and for all. It’s far from ideal, and emergency plans would have to be put into place. The EU have said they are ready for it. The UK is still in the midst of enacting plans. It would tear the Tory party apart, and even Parliament itself. But maybe after all of this all of that is inevitable anyway.
A third option would be to revoke Article 50 altogether and cancel Brexit. Again, large portions of the country would hate that and love it at the same time. It would do nothing to heal wounds and cause catastrophic damage to politics in this country as a whole. But, at that point it would be down to the PM to decide which is the least worst option. Leave with no-deal and move on to the second phase and risk pulling her party and Parliament apart. Or cancel it and have pretty much the same outcome. Who would actually want her job right now?
Affect on UK fenestration
The longer this goes on, the more the uncertainty continues. Many in business and our industry will have hoped March 29th would have marked the end of this phase, no matter what your thoughts on the matter. At least we would have known something concrete. As it is, another two weeks have been added and we still don’t know.
In the north of the UK, where purchasing power is far less than it is down south, I see signs that it’s starting to take it’s toll on business. I have private conversations with installers and suppliers who are exposed in the north and they are reporting back to me grinding business activity. Home owners happy to have quotes, but then happy to sit on their hands until the lay of the land is known. On the B2B side of things, I have been told that slower business activity is starting to work it’s way up the supply chain.
Here’s the thing. Months before this week we should have been looking at the end of this week as the crystal clear date in which we begin the process of leaving. No doubts. No questions. Do it, then move on to future trade arrangements. Yet here we are, in a state of chaos so high no one would have been able to predict.
As an industry selling bit ticket items, we don’t want to be talking about this. We should be talking about positive things like major investment, roaring sales, future market opportunities. But we’re not. We’re talking about everything within the context of Brexit and it lingering over our shoulders. We have an industry event in May called the FIT Show, and I am pretty sure exhibitors and organisers would have very much preferred the conversation to have moved on at this point. I think by the middle of May we’ll still be talking about it, and it will be casting a shadow.
I do not want to be all doom and gloom though. And I can draw on the experience in the lead up to the vote in 2016. As we approached the vote date, there was a noticeable drop in business activity as the UK held it’s breath. Then we voted, the dust settled over the weekend and the taps turned back on in a big way. At our place we had the busiest H2 in ten years. It was due to a ton of pent up demand from home owners who wanted to wait and see until after the event. I see all the same signs once again. This is why I believe urgently have to deliver and move on. It could unlock a flood of home owner demand that has simply been piling up until a final decision has been made.
There will always be opportunities in our industry, that much is certain. But the longer this continues, the bigger the shadow it will cast.
DGB Brexit coverage:
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