FBC Manby Bowdler Brexit Director Peter Wilding says the Brexit endgame is under way – and we could be heading for an October election. Here, he spells out what might lie ahead.
What on earth are West Midlands businesses supposed to do now?
Speaking at a conference in Birmingham last week, I asked one delegate how she felt about the Brexit planning. She replied “sick and tired”, quietly reflecting the view of most business people as they witness a trade-changing policy stuck in the political sidings whilst, yet again, the clock ticks down.
Soon, six long months will have gone by since the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK was agreed in Brussels on November 25th. During that time, the Commons has rejected the deal three times. In between those defeats, MP's of all shades have, with increasing desperation, sought to bang their collective heads against a brick wall by devising ever more imaginative solutions to the impasse only to find none of them pass practical or political muster.
The unedifying sight of Brexit cans being kicked down one long road from the date of the Lancaster House speech in January 2017 has caused no end of frustration.
Wherever businesses go to hear the latest advice, fresh-faced representatives from Whitehall hold their hands up and refer busy entrepreneurs to impenetrable government websites or say “please email me and I’ll refer your enquiry to my manager.” This approach has not been greeted with pleasure.
So what can we expect to happen?
My firm belief is that the chances of a no-deal exit on October 31st are higher now than ever. For three reasons:
1. A deal will not be agreed between the Labour and Conservative leaderships. Even if a compromise deal was reached, the fact that it would have to contain a permanent customs union and de facto single market membership entrenched in legislation unamendable by the next Tory leader will force upward of 150 Conservative MP's to oppose it. For Labour, upward of 150 MP's would oppose it unless it was subject to a second referendum. More would simply not countenance bailing out a Conservative Government, especially one as threadbare as this.
2. Conservative wipe-out at the European elections on May 23rd at the hands of Nigel Farage will be the final straw for Theresa May’s premiership. 60% of their members and 40% of those councillors who weren’t kicked out in the recent local elections will be voting for the Brexit Party. For them – and the vast majority of MP's dependent on their members’ support – there is only one way to turn around plunging poll ratings and an imploding party – and that is to accept that the wind is blowing Nigel’s way. May faces a vote of no confidence from her party members, never mind her MP's, on June 15th. My bet is she will fall on her sword within the next four weeks.
3. With May out of the way, any hope of the ugly compromise of her agreement surviving ends. Now, the battle will begin to seize a ship pretty much already on the rocks. In the leadership election that will then begin, I expect red-blooded no-dealers to be in full cry meaning that only a true Brexit believer will win. This means Boris. The members love him and will revolt if queasy MP's deny him a place in the last two candidates whom the members vote for. However, if it’s not Boris, it will be Dominic Raab – a man who won’t trim as some suspect Boris might.
So by early September – 8 weeks to go before the Halloween cliff edge – we will have a new Prime Minister who will have no option but to declare that the UK will leave the EU on October 31st, no ifs, no buts. With him will be the tabloids, the members, a cadre of 30% of voters and the behind-the-scenes cabal of influencers from Rupert Murdoch to Rees-Mogg who will brook no compromise in their Cromwellian policy to create a new model economy.
But nothing is quite as simple as it seems. If Boris wins, expect around 30 Conservative MP's to defect. If Labour carries on fence-sitting, expect up to 100 MP's to declare UDI. Here comes the final clash. Would these MP's support a no confidence motion forcing a general election and thereby condemning many of them to oblivion?
Or would Boris pre-empt them, capturing whatever honeymoon is possible from a party which for once would have a clear policy mouthed by a leader who will go all Shakespeare about the glorious future of our “sceptred isle”.
Business therefore will sit by watching the unfolding drama as the Trumpification of British politics reaches its climax in what I predict will be an October general election.
So it’s hard Brexit or hard Corbyn coming your way.
It’s time to prepare.
Here at FBC Manby Bowdler we have a stellar team of experts on our dedicated Brexit Advisory Team who can help you take control of your business whatever the politicians decide.
If you would like to contact Peter or the rest of the team to discuss any of the above please call 01694 724440, 07901 008220 or email firstname.lastname@example.org