Article Published February 28th, 2020

by Peter Cook
Business and organisation consultant; Author of “Let’s Talk about Brex..it
@AcademyofRock

28th February 2020

Brexit will unravel of its own contradictions.  I believe this will be sooner rather than later.  Brexit’s implosion will come from either what I call external socio-economic, political, environmental shocks or “internal combustion”, due to the underlying inherent instability of the Tory party and the self-destructive nature of Brexit, which has already claimed two Prime Ministers and cost £66 000 000 000 in waste. 

Short-term Brexit futures

We are already seeing and will undoubtedly see a veritable tsunami of Brexit consequences in the next 11 months. For example:

  • Continuing business exits and relocation decisions.  As I write, Axminster Carpets have gone to the wall citing Brexit as a major factor.  BMW have indicated no new investment in the Mini, an hors d’oeuvre from the automobile industry following the UK’s descent into an impoverished 3rd country.  We await decisions from pharmaceutical companies regarding Britain’s importance for drug registrations, agriculture and many other sectors that will either be severely disadvantaged by Brexit or those that have the wherewithal to reposition their centre of gravity.  Ryanair have already done this in a pro-active move that others will inevitably follow now that it has been confirmed that full customs checks will be a feature of Brexit Britain.
  • Key promises broken.  We have already had the soft hint dropped that the Government will continue its policy on austerity with plans to cut public services by 5%, despite Theresa May’s claim that we were out of austerity.
  • Dominic Cummings is about to take Occam’s Razor to Central Government.  This will undoubtedly unsettle career civil servants, who are now asked to be accountable to a single political master rather than acting impartially.  This fundamental change to the psychological contract will have consequences for retention, morale and performance.  This is also a change in the democratic “contract” between the people and Parliament. 
  • Recession.  Dr Andrew Sentance is an eminent economist amongst many who have predicted that a recession remains a possibility in the short term.  It is certainly evident on the high streets in terms of restricted money supply for all but essentials.  Some lifestyle retail outlets on high streets are reporting reductions in turnover of up to 50% since 2019 with a number having gone to the wall. 
  • Public services at breaking point.  The NHS has already declared itself as having significant problems delivering services and we will see further cuts in local Government services as Johnson’s Government attempts to talk up the building of bridges to Ireland etc. whilst squeezing the public purse to pay for the sunny uplands of Brexit.
  • Food shortages, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, due to chaos and delays in border checks.  Michael Gove recently confirmed that border checks would be a part of Brexit despite the Government denying it on many previous occasions
  • The same issues will apply to the supply of medicines to our NHS.  This will selectively affect vulnerable people on complex cocktails of drugs and those with “orphan” conditions and using unlicensed medicines.  It is not scaremongering to suggest that a number of unnecessary deaths will occur from Brexit.
  • Resurgence of “hardy perennial” Brexit problems e.g. Ireland, Gibraltar, immigration, fish, US food standards, Trump vs EU etc.  At the time of writing, it appears that Johnson is willing to throw the fisherman under a trawler in order to strike more important deals on financial services.  All of these problems are what academics call “wicked problems” in so far that they are inherently complex, volatile, connected and ambiguous in nature.  They have so far been put on a “Brexit carousel” in the withdrawal agreement negotiations.  For example, as soon as Ireland shows itself to be inherently difficult, Johnson’s government advisers simply gaslight the situation with another item from the carousel e.g. fish.  The fish and chlorinated chickens are about to come home to roost.  It is really just a question as to when this happens and at what levels of concentration that will influence a change in public opinion about Brexit.

Mid-term Brexit futures

I have taken as the working assumption that Johnson’s Government are incrementally lulling or even numbing the population into surrender via “Brexit apathy” towards the acceptance of no-deal Brexit, using sweeteners such as bridges, HS2 and other distractions.  The latest euphemism in the mix is the so-called “Australian deal”.  This, of course, is “No Deal with Vegemite”.  The public at large have so far been fooled by these catchy slogans, but it remains uncertain as to how much longer this will prevail.  Mitigating factors could be real changes in the everyday life / feelings of optimism that Johnson has peddled alongside the emergence of a credible opposition.  The Government PR machine are also attempting to deflect public attention by replacing Brexit apathy with headline-grabbing projects as HS2, bridges over troubled water and buses.  The public are thrown “bones of contention” to occupy their minds, while Johnson and Co focus on “rich pieces of meat”, which the public will not notice.

In the mid-term, and assuming the overall direction of travel is towards No Deal on 31.12.20 we may then see the catastrophic failure of the UK plc.  Some vital signs or gamechangers may include:

  • A further drop in the pound of anything between 5 and 15% with impact on prices and a probable self-imposed deep recession comparable or even greater than that of 2008.
  • Gridlock on Britain’s main arteries to the ports with contagion in surrounding villages and impact on working parents whose children will not be able to reach school.
  • Pension losses for UK people living in the EU and consequent squeezes on the triple lock for UK pensioners
  • Real food shortages beyond levels considered inconvenient.
  • Significant delays at borders for travellers.
  • Carpet bagging by health insurance companies charging for private health replacements for EHIC as we move out of the EU frying pan, into Trump’s fire.

and so on …

It will be the seemingly trivial things that will act as culture carriers through The Sun / Express / Mail etc.  However much they bleat about the causes of the above being the “evil EU”, experience is reality for the stereotypical Brexiteer (if that exists) and they will likely not seek answers but look for the easiest person / people to blame.  Opponents of Brexit need to ensure that this is Johnson and the Tories / Brexit party.

At this point, the UK may become brutal or ugly for a while, but there will be nothing like the “hate of the people” to change Government policy on Brexit.  Given the actual numbers of leave voters that have come out to Remain marches and on “Brexit Day” 31.01.20, the notion of widespread civil unrest is vastly exaggerated by the Government as a device to silence Remainers.  We are also lucky in so far as much of the “angry demographic” are of an age where they are unable or unwilling to “take back control” of their country by violent means.

Depending on when this happens, a number of scenarios are feasible.  All would lead to a humiliating defeat of the Government and the bursting of the “Brexit fantasy bubble”.  It will however no longer be as simple as sending an apology e-mail and a request to rejoin.  Rejoining will at the very least require a purging of the “culture carriers” of the former regime and a levelling down of the hubris that has characterised the “English Revolution”.

This will be a very bumpy ride, but I predict we will end up as a Better Britain in a Better Europe for a Better World.  Populism’s promises will lay in tatters alongside the key protagonists that pimped them out to a pliable population.