‘Be careful what you wish for’ is one phrase that has acquired added poignancy in the dizzy days that have followed the decision to ‘Brexit’. Accusations and counter-accusations continue to fly in all directions, not just in the UK, but within the higher echelons of the EU itself.
As I write, the United Kingdom is not remotely ‘united’. Voters remain split down the middle, the leading political parties are in chaos and claims for independence proliferate from Scotland to Gibraltar. The most vile manifestation has been the intolerance. Scar tissue abounds and confusion rules.
But the truth is the world continues to spin, England’s footballers are out of Euro 2016 and strawberries are being consumed in vast quantities at Wimbledon. Life goes on.
Flippancy is perhaps not the most appropriate antidote for post Referendum anguish, but people like me who are trying to run a business cannot afford to wait a couple of years – or even a couple of months – while civil servants, politicians and the Bank of England try to restore order to a very messy situation. We need to get on with things: orders have to be fulfilled, investment decisions need to be made and salaries must be paid.
As a staunch ‘remain’ voter, I have been as perplexed as anybody about the outcome. Seven days in, while still smarting at the way the country has turned itself into a rudderless laughing stock, I know there is little to be achieved by holding on in hope of a second referendum – it ain’t going to happen – or that I will wake up and find it was all a rather nasty dream. We have to look for the positives, and I believe I am beginning to see them.
For a start, politicians have learned that voters will not have their opinions toyed with as part of the elites’ power game, which will hopefully lead to more connected politics in the future.
A vote for the status quo is rarely a vote for progress or improvement (my vote was against regression) and the outcome forces us to look for a better way to define our relationship with Europe. Working, as I do, mainly in London, I see all the benefits of an open, inclusive and outward looking society – but I recognise that many don’t. I’m also not personally bothered by the concept of sovereignty, which seems somewhat feudal in a digitally connected age, but it is clearly important to many. We need to plot a course through all this.
The answer clearly doesn’t lie in the binary ‘in’ or ‘out’ option presented on the ballot paper. In my view, we need to hold onto the trading relationship, with free movement of people and capital, but rein back on the governance and desire to build a super-nation. Can we have a trading union without political or economic union? I’ve read of different tiers of membership emerging, which gives me hope that a sensible balance can be found. More conciliatory comments are now beginning to emanate from the leveller heads in Europe, stock markets have quickly recovered lost ground and while the pound continues to take a pummelling, the end of the world might not be as nigh as Project Fear would have had us believe.
In the alternative finance and fintech market that we have chosen to build our business in, there was a widespread slowdown in business volumes in the run-up to the Referendum. Members of the Alternative Finance community have now begun to rediscover their collective voice to make plucky comments about the future. Some, like ArchOver, have actually been able to demonstrate that SMEs are still seeking finance and that lender appetite for healthy returns is undiminished. SyndicateRoom continues to close deals and RateSetter reports business as usual, signs which, if they develop into a firm trend, would seem to run counter to the solemn prediction that nervous business owners would put important investment decisions on hold and investors would withdraw, at least for the time being.
However you voted and wherever your sympathies lie, uncertainty and indecision are our biggest enemies. Legions of economists are being wheeled out to make conflicting predictions on what the future might hold (nothing new there), but it is important that we don’t allow the harbingers of doom to talk us into recession. In reality, all that has changed is perceptions - amplified by those trying to make a quick buck on the speculation. The economy is in a far better place than it was in 2008, the banking sector is ten times stronger than it was then, unemployment is at a record low and the Bank of England has said it can and will support the economy as required: there is every reason for businesses to keep their collective foot to the floor to motor through the storm.
Our nation is full of innovative, savvy entrepreneurs who are very used to finding a way to succeed, whatever is thrown at them, and we can do it again.