Brexit. Will it happen on March 29th? Will it happen in three months time? Will it happen at all? Nothing, even at this incredibly late stage, is certain. What is clear in my own mind though is that we need it to happen, on time, so we can move on, close this chapter and start the next one.
Get it done, on time!
You’ll be aware that Jeremy Corbyn, under pressure from certain parts of his own party, has been forced to vaguely back a second referendum. Although his backing is as blurred as his stance on Brexit always has been. However, on Sunday, Reuters reported that 70 Labour MP’s were against a second referendum. This is a high number and makes the likelihood of Parliament backing another referendum slim. My guess is Corbyn knew this, so decided to go for it knowing it is likely to be voted down. But at least he’s seen to be doing something. So we can say moderately at least that this remains an unlikely outcome right now.
Also at the weekend, the ERG, the extreme right of the Conservatory party, appeared to soften it’s stance on May’s deal, likely fearing a long delay to the Brexit process or it not happening at all. They are being softly bounced into back May’s deal, more out of fear of Brexit not happening at all. If the PM can get the ERG on her side, as well as a few rebel Labour MP’s who sit in heavy leave-voting areas, there is actually chance she could get her deal through.
At this point, this is perhaps the first glimmer of hope in the whole thing for a very long time. It’s not whether you like her deal or not. It’s not even about whether you voted to leave or not. It’s about closing this very long, destabilising chapter in our politics. The public at large are sick and tired of the subject, as is business. There are other things going on right now which need urgent attention both domestically and around the world. We can ill afford to spend any more time debating the minutia of Brexit.
Lets not jump the gun here though. The chances of May’s deal being voted through are far from certain. We’re only inching towards that chance not running. MPs will keep their cards close to their chest up until they have to vote on it. So it won’t be until the middle of next week that we actually know what happens. If it’s passed, we can crack on with wrapping things up. If not, then we have a menu of delays to choose from.
That’s the next can of worms.
What is the right delay?
The working theory is that should the Prime Minister get her deal through Parliament, that would leave only 17 days in which to prepare for leaving day. As I understand it, there are still hundreds of Statutory Instruments (a form of legislation which allow the provisions of an Act of Parliament to be subsequently brought into force or altered without Parliament having to pass a new Act) that need to be passed. This is obviously going to take some time. So some have suggested that a delay of a couple of weeks could be sought by Parliament from the EU. Most believe that a very short delay to allow the UK to get its ducks in a row would be quickly accepted.
But we’re assuming all sorts of things here. Lets explore the idea that May’s deal is rejected for a second time. MPs would then be allowed to vote on what happens next, which would be a vote to delay. The question then becomes how long. What would be the right delay?
At this point you have to look at the business community. Various reports have already clearly stated that companies are delaying decisions on investment until they know what will happen with May’s deal. If it gets through, the tap can be turned back on. If not, then we’re still in the land of uncertainty and so money won’t be spent.
To be frank, in the north of England we’re starting to see this clearly on the ground. My discussions with fabricators are all echoing what is happening locally here. Home owners appear more than happy to keep getting their quotes for new windows and doors, but many appear to be waiting until after the end of March to make their decision. In the south of the country where there is more purchasing power this may not be the case, but the north/south divide makes a difference.
In which case the length of a delay really does matter and will have differing effects depending on the purchasing power of each region. If May’s deal get passed and we need a couple of weeks to get things done, but with the promise that we’re now actually moving forward in a known direction, then I think the taps turn back on and people start making home improvement decisions again. A delay of three months doesn’t actually change the situation some regions are finding themselves in as it’s not long enough for people to feel confident enough to start spending again. It would leave us with three more months of grind, where home owners continue to get quotes, but few actually make decisions.
Then there are the longer delays. Some have mentioned a delay of 6 months. That could be long enough for home owners to get back to spending again. The issue however is that this is a medium term fix, which will only end up in another slowdown around August time, where our own industry is naturally quiet any way. A downturn in business activity at this time of year would hit installers hard. This kind of delay doesn’t solve the problem but merely delays it further. It would do nothing to encourage big business to unlock their pending investment.
There are then some quite extreme ideas being thrown around of delays of beyond a year, 18 months even. This seems unlikely as the UK would have to take part in European elections which would make no sense and would be an extreme test of the public’s patience not only with Brexit but with the British political system as a whole. It could be very damaging to all major parties. That being said, it would be long enough for home owners to set aside their concerns and begin spending again. Good for installers in the window and door industry, but major uncertainty for big business which would more than offset that.
If it were up to me there would be no delay at all. Vote for her deal, even though it’s far from perfect, and then make Parliament sit the remaining weekends before Brexit day to help pass whatever legislation is required to get it done. Leave on March 29th and put this frankly bizarre last two years behind us and get straight to work on creating the new relationship with the EU and rest of the world and actually look at ourselves in a positive manner. The sooner we can get that in place with Europe the sooner we can rule out having to use the backstop and the sooner we can start signing off on trade deals with other countries around the world.
I cannot imagine there are many people out there with the stomach or energy to keep talking about this much longer. I know I don’t. Lets just get it done and move on.
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