Uncertainty in the face of great change is no fault. On the other hand, it is a fallacy – in business, in politics, in life generally – to think that, just because one doesn’t know something, it isn’t knowable.
As copious comments given to City A.M. in recent days have made clear, some say that they do not know what happens next in Brexit terms and who in government is responsible for it, or who holds the brief for speaking to them about it.
That’s understandable, especially when the government has said that it won’t give a “running commentary” on Brexit. But here’s the problem: quite apart from those in business who no doubt genuinely seek more clarity about the process, a select, vocal few seem to believe that it is positively admirable not to be in the know.
This would be odd in conventional circumstances. As in other walks of life, business people don’t normally make a virtue of their ignorance. But in the present, exceptional political environment, our dinner party chatterati rewards declarations of “nobody knows” among its ranks, particularly on the subject of Brexit.
This is not logical. For Brexit, just as in the case of the Scottish independence referendum, the claim that the unknown aspects of an exit were alarming for business, or could not be adequately evaluated on the information available, made sense as a status quo campaigning tool – but makes precisely no sense now that the leave vote has won. It is actually going to happen. Most business people, remainers as well as leavers, are reconciled to that. Proclaiming that your uncertainty about it is so bad that the process shouldn’t go ahead, or is crippling for the time being, is no longer an on-trend, government-compliant political campaigning device – it is a demonstration of the fact that you’re not doing your political homework or procuring adequate strategic advice.
Contrary to the cacophonous quackings of ignorance from this small band of naysayers, I have never known government to be so open to listening to business. The May government is naturally very concerned to keep confidence up and dreads any suggestion of investment being put on hold or, even worse, going elsewhere: they will listen to you; you just have to speak to them!
Further, the government’s “direction of travel” could not have been made clearer in recent weeks, from the announcement of the Great Repeal Bill to the signal that Article 50 will be invoked by the close of March next year. The roles taken by the team below Brexit secretary David Davis have become increasingly clear, with David Jones MP being the completely straight-talking interlocutor for business. Number 10’s advisers are in full-on charm mode towards the City and investors – tech especially, but more broadly positive towards business, too.
The City’s political champions in Westminster are on the front foot in both houses, in Committees and full debates alike. The newly launched Financial Services Negotiation Forum offers significant opportunities for City industries to make their views heard. TheCityUK continues to operate positively, both through the super high powered European Financial Services Chairman’s Advisory Committee under Shriti Vadera and more generally. We do our humble best in the City of London Corporation to reflect and project the views and needs of our electors.
So the picture really is coming together. In the meantime, it isn’t too gauche to point out that Brexit is good for advisory and ancillary services, providing not only the prospect of a whole new political and regulatory landscape (with potential improvements on the present, bureaucracy-heavy environment) but multiple opportunities to make representations before it is formed, too.
In any case, ironically, an uber-panicky reaction just isn’t British. The solution is obvious. Take advice. Actually listen. And in the meantime, stop flapping. Steady the buffs. Don’t panic. Keep calm and carry on.