Branxiety – the new affliction on the Brexit block


by Catherine Stewart, Partner, Jericho Chambers; Senior Adviser, Interel
21 May 2017
This article first appeared on the Jericho Chambers website.

Brexiteer, ReMainer, ReMoaner, now ReLeaver….the lexicon of Brexit grows as its implications sink in. But facing the realities of what is required to make Brexit “a success”, everyone is equally susceptible to the growing phenomenon: Branxiety.

Not the politicians. Success or failure, they will spin the story to put themselves in a good light. The victory is either glorious in David and Goliath-style, or pyrrhic due to the vindictiveness of the mighty punishing a plucky persecuted minority … the scripts are already written.

But spare a thought for the foot soldiers behind the politicians. These are the people who must go into battle and secure success for them – the civil servants instructed to find a solution to the Northern Ireland border problem; to create a frictionless UK-EU free trade area without being part of the Single Market, to reassure the EU and UK expats that nothing will change in their lives…. To spin gold out of straw.

Think too of the businesses who are being told to “just get on with Brexit – step up, be ambitious, look to the bright future ahead”. They look in dismay at the prospect of their complex supply chains being wrenched apart as barriers to the single market are erected. They hear the rumours of EU customers seeking alternative suppliers outside the UK and their competitors gearing up to pick up their business. They foresee the specialization that they have honed for their EU customers becoming worthless as their market shrinks. And so they start looking for potential new markets, expensively far away. They worry how they will meet the varying technical standards, quality controls, price requirements and delivery deadlines with all the yet unknown tariffs & customs controls.

Spare a thought for the Human Resources departments who have sourced their workforce from a vast market of 600 million with few costs and little additional paperwork. Will those EU nationals they trained stay put? Or will there be an exodus, leaving gaping holes in the workforce? Where will they find budget and skills for staff to meet visa requirements and costs? How will they navigate potential discrimination challenges? How to build a new pipeline of talent from a much-reduced pool?

Engineers, architects, and designers, once confident their products complied with EU standards across 28 markets, are now faced with the possibility of diverging norms, the need for duplicate, parallel production lines and the prospect of diminishing access to local knowledge when it comes to markets, information and influence over future standards.

Bear a thought for the startup, the entrepreneur, dependent on flexible models for sourcing ideas and skills. They too see their talent pool shrinking, fear they will be cut off from collaborative project opportunities and sources of investment. Light on admin expertise, they wonder who will handle the visa applications and customs paperwork and seriously consider taking their moveable talent out of the UK to more fertile pastures on the Continent.

Irrespective of how they voted, these are the people who must make Brexit “a success” – for their companies, their bosses and for their employees. As the realities dawn and the problems fill their inbox, do not be surprised to hear about mounting levels of Branxiety. Be gentle on the afflicted.


Catherine Stewart is partner at Jericho Chambers. She established SEAP, the professional body for EU lobbying. She is also a member of the Belgo-British Conference Board and trustee of the British School of Brussels.