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Brexit fiasco: business needs a stronger voice

Our politicians’ failure to deliver Brexit is also a failure of the entire business community to be able to get its message across and influence policy, argues Zetetic Capital’s Nick Gowlland.

"Brexit

May 2019

More than three years since we voted to leave the EU, at the time of writing our nation’s destination is unknown, let alone the exit terms. Chances are, they still will be when this article goes to print.

It’s a once-in-a-generation political crisis, for sure. But a catastrophe for business.

Whatever your views, we can all agree that our government’s negotiating strategy has proven utterly disastrous – incompetent, myopic and ignorant of the obvious fact that unattractive trade-offs would be required to deliver Brexit.

Leave aside all the nonsense peddled during and after the referendum campaign – ‘Project Fear’ on one side, snappy quotes from Brexiteers such as ‘f*ck business’ on the other. Tribal politics, rank opportunism and the narrow pursuit of ideological beliefs have driven compromise and moderation out of the window.

Yet our politicians’ failure to deliver is also a failure of the entire business community to be able to get its message across and influence policy.

The sad fact is, most of our elected politicians have very little understanding of business other than through their own local constituency interests. And they don’t see this community as important stakeholders. That extends to the very top.

Organisations such as the CBI and IoD have tried to inject some fact-based sanity into the debate. Even the TUC. But this hasn’t cut through. And far too few business leaders have been prepared to speak out. As for our own accountancy profession – the silence has frankly been deafening.

Of course, opinions are sharply divided. Raising one’s head above the parapet creates brand and possibly economic risk.

But we are living through an existential national crisis. Throughout this fiasco, what stands out is an absence of compelling, moderate leadership, and calm articulation of tough real-world choices.

As of now, there is a high chance that we will end up with an outcome the majority of people dislike, and which is likely to leave them significantly worse off.

All of those of us who work in business need to ask ourselves how we can exert more influence.

A key lesson in life is that if one takes the free rider option, and leaves others to do the hard yards by standing up and speaking out, the harvest may be bitter.

Nick Gowlland is Managing Director of Zetetic Capital Ltd and member of the LSCA Business Board.

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