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The Brexit Column: Detox from the detail

The Brexit Column: Detox from the detail

Be selective about your news diet in 2018 and seek alternate views. That will sharpen your Brexit thinking in critical months to come, says Mark Essex

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Director, Public Policy

KPMG in the UK

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Bored with Brexit? According to data from Google Trends, the number of searches for the term has hit rock bottom in the UK. It’s ironic, as we approach the most important 10 months of the process so far, that public interest in Brexit has never been lower. Maybe it was a Christmas lull. Perhaps we’re trying to block out reality for a few more days after returning to work. Whatever the reason, we Brexit obsessives should perhaps take our cue from this new public mood.

Don’t confuse my laid-back levity for complacency. I believe Brexit remains the defining issue for British business in the next few years. I’m only suggesting that if we are more discerning about what we read, watch and listen to, we’d give ourselves more space to correctly interpret what is going on and come up with a better response as business people.

Because despite what feels like an overwhelming flow of news, in reality the possible outcomes have not changed materially. Look at the Financial Times’s recent survey of economists: two thirds had the same view about what Brexit means for the economy compared as they did 12 months earlier.

In my mind, the three potential scenarios remain …

  1. An acceptable deal, similar to Canada, plus some access for our services firms, to a lesser or greater degree. A transition phase would precede this, giving businesses and citizens the time to adjust and authorities to establish the necessary border infrastructure. Business would probably remain in a limbo until the terms of a final agreement was agreed.
  2. A ‘mitigated no deal’ where, despite a failure to agree on the substantive issue of our future relationship, a disorderly exit is avoided thanks to agreements on air travel, shared energy infrastructure and so on.
  3. A catastrophic cliff edge, where talks collapse and a chaotic separation causes massive disruption. This result would, hopefully, drive both sides back to the negotiating table. 

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I’d put the chances of each at roughly 50:25:25, in that order. Unfortunately, whatever the final outcome, 2018 is likely to be peppered with bad tempered exchanges, threatened walkouts and edgy deadlines. Nothing substantivie is likely before the start of trade talks in March and even if we do end up with an 'acceptable deal', we’re unlikely to know we have one until close to the October deadline.

with the prospect of Brexit now due next year, the prudent approach for businesses is to keep preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. 

Back to my detox. If the course of our three scenarios all look fairly similar up to October, you can afford to be more selective about how you follow events. First, that means not worrying about every twist and turn – read the Sunday’s or weekly digests to place events in their broader context.

It also means casting a more sceptical eye over your favoured sources of news and sampling alternatives. Your favoured news source might reassure, but it may also artificially reinforce your expectations about the eventual outcome. You might not like it but in a process this finely balanced – their Brexit might be the one you all get. these days it's prudent to think the unthinkable.

Widening your perspectives geographically too. What sort of Brexit does the rest of Europe want? It was easy for all 27 countries to agree when their aims were the same: avoiding a budget shortfall, avoiding border problems in Ireland, or avoiding a dilution of their citizens’ rights. 

That unity will be under much more tension in 2018. Each of the 27 has a veto on the future deal, making every national gripe a potential stumbling block. Then there is the fundamental question of how Europe operates without the British counterweight to French and German power.

To understand this under-reported, but increasingly important, aspect of Brexit, my New Year’s resolution is to spend more time dipping into Le Monde, El Pais or Die Welt.

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This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK. You can register for the email subscription list of this column and expert views from our Brexit leaders

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