After a 12-month period full of surprises, I guess it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise to find that we now have a period of political uncertainty to add to the general uncertainty generated by Brexit.
They say you get the politicians you deserve, but, really, are we this bad? Two prime ministers in a row have, through a combination of arrogance, contempt for the electorate and ineptitude, plunged the UK into an uncertain future. A hung parliament effectively erases the Conservative Party manifesto of any of the contentious policies such as social care – the so-called dementia tax – and will see them replaced with bland DUP-approved policies that do not upset one side in Northern Ireland.
In June 2016, we were looking at a period of sustained growth and had a stable, if flawed, relationship with our nearest neighbours and biggest market in the EU. All that the majority of business leaders had to consider was their investment plans for the future: should we build that new factory, invest in new technology or hire additional staff?
Now, 12 months later, the abiding sentiment in the business community is one of uncertainty – and uncertainty is the enemy of investment decision-making.
Doing a deal with the DUP may be politically expedient but it comes at the risk of unravelling the delicate balance that is politics in Northern Ireland. The leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson, has said that she puts country and her beliefs before party. If only Mr Cameron and Mrs May had done that instead of carrying out their opportunistic referendum and election gambles, both of which spectacularly backfired.
So, what now for Brexit? Hard, soft or open? One thing became evident during the election campaign that was called to give Mrs May a mandate for a Brexit deal: the government clearly has no idea what a post-Brexit UK will look like. We were left with banal clichés such as “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
Far from being “bloody difficult”, our prime minister just looked inept and over confident. She completely handed the initiative to the EU negotiators by triggering Article 50 to set the two-year deadline, then calling and losing her majority in the election.
At the time of writing, negotiations are shortly due to start on Brexit. Is it possible to imagine a worse run-up to those negotiations? Unsurprisingly, the Europeans are scratching their heads about what we want.
Despite all of that, the UK remains a great place to do business and invest. Where else in the world can you find a fair legal system, a skilled workforce, a good banking system and an openness to foreign investment? I would add a stable political system, as chaotic as it currently appears.
So, there is something to look forward to, provided the politicians can start to make progress on the Brexit negotiations.
FIS chief executive