Despite the warning from Mr Tusk to the UK to use the Brexit breathing space wisely, two months of the UK’s Brexit extension have almost ticked by and we’re none the wiser on the shape or timing of the UK’s departure from the EU. However, businesses should resist the temptation to be lulled into complacency by the lack of new developments and need to set their focus beyond current political distractions.
After a period of relative silence, the EU elections and the Conservative leadership contest has brought Brexit back on the risk radar and the questions from business are starting to ramp up once more. As they look to the future landscape, businesses are asking how they can prioritise and where to begin. While there is no obvious pathway ahead on Brexit, and all options look at the very least improbable, if not impossible, no deal is still the legal default. Indeed, in some ways the Conservative leadership contest has put the possibility of a ‘no deal’, twice averted, firmly back on the table. The Brexit baton will pass to May’s successor over the summer, but the options available won’t change. So rather than waiting for the leadership contest to play out, businesses should use this time to make decisions of their own.
While business may crave certainty and stability, the reality of Brexit means that uncertainty looks set to be the prevalent backdrop for business in the UK for some time to come. I’ve written before about the need to shift thinking away from Brexit being a moment in time. Rather, it’s a case of ‘Brexit as usual’. Brexit is now part of the wider backdrop of disruption and change that all businesses globally are facing. Unlike business changes like new regulations, which typically come with advance notice and time to bed in afterwards, the only way through current disruption is to focus on improving optionality and becoming more agile. In terms of Brexit, that means preparing for a potential ‘no deal’ scenario, but also looking at how you can transform your business in the longer term to adapt to the opportunities new technology offers, embracing new ways of working and reorienting to the new global trade environment.
Mustering renewed momentum behind such planning is made all the more difficult by the prevalent Brexit fatigue, particularly among senior business leaders who have already spent a good deal of time and energy on Brexit preparations, often above their ‘day job’. Having an extension of Article 50 and with the date of the UK’s departure from the EU still unknown, a lot of this effort may feel futile at this point in time. One way or another, attitudes may start to harden quickly during the summer and things may look very different in a few months.
However, continuing to engage with your people and creating space for dialogue is important. This was brought home to me at a recent town hall our chairman hosted to talk about the future prospects for our firm, where it was clear from the Q&A that Brexit loomed large on everyone’s minds. While it may not be the path that everyone would have chosen, business leaders have an important role to play in creating a new narrative for the UK, and this starts with energising and inspiring your own people about the potential to create a better future for us all.
Partner, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)7753 928494