In the weeks after the Brexit referendum there was a lot of opinion about how Brexit could or would be stopped, there were legal proceedings, and political manoeuvring. Those opposing Brexit hoped for a reprieve, and those supporting it feared that their victory would be stolen. This last point has become important for the Brexit process - we’ll revisit in a moment.
But first, will Brexit happen?
It goes without saying that if an event is very unlikely then preparing for its eventuality is going to have low priority (except in the field of risk management for those risks with potentially catastrophic effects). The other side of the coin is just having your head in the sand and hoping for the best.
Is Brexit unlikely, something that will be fudged - or inevitable and something that needs to be urgently planned for?
In the UK, we have seen public opinion harden in support of Brexit, for example this YouGov poll shows that 70% of the UK population think Brexit should be enacted. The FT gives examples of typical voters’ surprise and confusion that Brexit has not already happened, and their continuing concerns about immigration. And we should not be very surprised - the Brexit campaign successfully emphasised that EU immigration was the cause of low pay and stretched services, that Brexit would be easy, that the EU would allow the UK to continue as before because of their economic considerations, and that views to the contrary were at best overly negative or at worst outright lies (“project fear”).
In my view, as the Brexit process runs into issues, the popular view will continue to harden against the EU - indeed the Government strategy seems to be preparing the ground to be able to blame the EU for problems, rather than preparing and educating voters on the inevitable tradeoffs required. Rightly or wrongly, the UK population seems ready to blame the EU, supported by xenophobic caricatures of foreign politicians and officials.
The Political Parties
The governing Conservative Party has MPs on both sides of the debate. However a majority of their activists support Brexit. This may be an important consideration as the position of their leader, and UK Prime Minister, May is not assured and so a new leader may need to be elected. That said, the Conservative party position is to fully support and implement Brexit. Debate is instead focused round the UK's preferred relationship with the EU post-Brexit. It is very hard to see this position changing before Brexit.
The opposition Labour party has had a confused view of Brexit. Their leader, Corbyn, supports Brexit, I believe because long held views that it is a capitalist club which would stop a future Labour government in implementing policies such as nationalisation. A majority of its core supporters also support Brexit. On the other hand, many of his MPs, young activists, and trade unionists oppose Brexit. In any case, like the Conservatives their position is to support Brexit, but perhaps hoping for a closer longterm relationship with the EU than the Government. Again it is very hard to see the Labour party agreeing to stop Brexit, especially as Corbyn’s position as leader is firm.
The views of the other parties are important but will not materially change the political reality in the UK - the political establishment has decided, at the very least, that it is obliged to implement Brexit.
The Fall of the Government
With the position of the two main parties supporting Brexit, it's difficult to imagine scenarios where the UK Parliament would vote to block it.
Even if May’s Government collapsed and Labour forced an election it is very likely that the new parliament would support Brexit (aligned to their voters). Of course the process of implementing Brexit itself would certainly be chaotic in this scenario - but that is a different subject.
There maybe a majority of MPs in parliament that originally opposed Brexit - but for them to come together and cause the collapse of both the Government and likely the Opposition by voting to block Brexit is fanciful - and for them would be political suicide.
And its Members
Although there are occasional polite remarks about how much the EU regrets Brexit, the EU and 27 member countries seem to have quickly come to terms with the UK leaving and have politically moved on. We can see that the UK is already outside of the EU political processes; UK MEPs losing positions within the EU Parliament hierarchy, the UK commissioner resigning his responsibilities, the council having meetings without a UK representative, and presumably UK nationals working for the Commission looking for new jobs. The mathematics around Members qualified majorities will change when the UK formally leaves - so new alliances have to be formed between the remaining Members. This is the priority, as is addressing their ongoing issues, for example refugees. And there is no evidence of popular support by voters in the EU, of trying to "entice" the UK to remain.
And although there has been complaints of the Commission's intransigence in the UK press, the fact that its Members made the Commission harden the EU’s negotiating position must be a significant indicator of political opinion.
Or just delaying it
It is legally uncertain if the UK could unilaterally withdraw the Article 50 notification and so stop Brexit without the EU having a say (and as argued previously, this is politically impossible).
And it is politically uncertain if the EU Commission, EU Parliament, and all the remaining EU Member Countries would support the UK in stopping or delaying Brexit if the UK requested such support (maybe because of a fall of the UK Government causing chaos).
Even in that situation it would still be in the EU’s interest to see the UK leave, perhaps they would agree to gave the the UK access to the single market for a short time as a “rule taker”. After all, in time the UK could invoke Article 49 to rejoin - well that would be far in the future - the point is that it is probably no longer in the EU’s interests nor politically possible for the EU to stop or slow down Brexit.
Brexit will happen in March 2019
In sum, the UK public and political parties support Brexit. The EU, members and citizens seems content and indeed want to move on. It is hard to see this changing before March 2019, not least because the blame for future issues will be firmly put on the opposing sides. Politically and legally it is unlikely that Brexit can even be delayed let alone stopped.
Future blogs will discuss the scope of any agreement - and clearly this is more nuanced because of the many issues to be overcome, the limited timescales and the limited majority enjoyed by the Government in the UK Parliament. But we can be confident that the UK will exit the EU in March 2019 - orderly or chaotically.
Brexit is Comming
But Brexiters don't trust
As mentioned earlier, many ardent supporters of Brexit seem to doubt that Brexit will happen. Maybe there will be a fudge, maybe it will be delayed indefinitely, maybe the UK will legally leave but practically nothing will have change (or worse the UK will become a “rule taker” in the single market etc.), maybe the EU will stop us! These fears are unwarranted - the UK will leave and it is clearly not politically sustainable for the UK to become a second rate associate member “rule taker” or anything like that. I think both the UK and EU want a clean break event - what happens after that is for another generation.
The reason it is worth mentioning this is that this lack of trust and confidence has make the process of Brexit much more difficult.
Why did we go down the Article 50 route when we knew it was not fit for purpose (or at least biased against the UK) - after all what can be done by treaty can be undone by treaty. Because Brexiters were scared that it would never happen if not done quickly.
Why did we invoke Article 50 before we had a satisfactory scope & timetable agreed for negotiations, for example, covering future trade? Because Brexiters were scared that it would never happen if we delayed.
Why have we not worked out a feasible transition / implementation approach? Because Brexiters are still scared that it will never happen if we delay the implementation.
Why did we have a General Election straight after invoking Article 50? Actually we can’t blame this on Brexiters’ lack of confidence, rather it was the overconfidence of the UK Prime Minister.
Impact on Business
And on IT
This post just sets the scene. Brexit is going to happen so let's understand the implications and prepare for it. Things are not going to be the same but not everything can or will change overnight - so the trick is working out what will or must change first - triage and prioritise.
One year is not a very long time for a strategic IT programme, but this might be forced on us. Those companies that are lucky enough to have systems supporting the post Brexit world efficiently and on time will have a commercial advantage.
The [perhaps] good news is that undoubtedly the Government will be so busy with Brexit that it won't be able to move forward on other aspects of its agenda. The Queen's Speech was essentially bare except for Brexit provisions. Even where legislation is not required, Departments likely will be re-organising and focusing on keeping the lights on, rather than trying to force change on businesses. Additional reporting requirements (say on employee salary transparency etc), new tax provisions, pricing regulations, or (e.g. if Labour forms a government) nationalisation - all these will be minimised until long after March 2019. Of course, I appreciate that change is often an opportunity for business - that is beside the point.
So my advice is this. Clear IT programmes to minimise optional change for the next two years - but keep your capability and resources as these will be needed to implement significant change in starting in the next 6 to 12 months. Unfortunately we currently do not have the required details to plan these meaningfully - but winter is coming!
- Deal, no deal, and the scope of the Transition
- Free Movement - Implications for Workforce & Work Management, and Flexibility
- Digital Brexit - Data Protection and the Cloud
- Government Services - Mega IT?
- Customs - Where will the lorries park?
I am a solution director, enterprise architect and IT strategist with over 25 years architecture and design experience. I have held senior architectural roles in health, consumer banking & fund trading, insurance, and government and have wide experience across business and technology, business development, and programme delivery.
I am also a Trustee of Anorexia & Bulimia Care, a national UK eating disorders charity. We provide on-going care, emotional support and practical guidance for anyone affected by eating disorders, those struggling personally and parents, families and friends. We always desperately require support and donations.