THE BLOG

What The Election Result Means For The Business Sector

13/06/2017 12:58

The 2017 election was a shambles. It's hard to believe Theresa May squandered a 20+ point advantage in such a short time, that her manifesto was so ill-thought out, and that her incompetence managed to make Corbyn look statesmanlike. Meanwhile May looked so unprepared that it's easy to forget that it was she who called the snap election, not her opponent.

We're now left with a weak government with a weak mandate, and an uncertain future; we could have another PM by the end of the week or another government by the end of the summer.

Uncertainty for a few days or weeks doesn't really matter when you're building a business. The longer term stuff is far more important.

And it's this that I worry about.

Growing businesses need access to talent and trade. Following the Brexit referendum, many tech business founders have told me it definitely feels harder to recruit top European talent. I've spoken to European founders and experienced businesspeople who feel less welcome here now, and are more likely to go live in other tech hubs like Berlin. I don't blame them -- would you move to a country and put down roots there if it was threatening to turf you out at any moment? As a manager, I've sponsored visas for foreign talent in the past and it's a highly bureaucratic and burdensome process. I don't relish the prospect of this paperwork being required for Europeans like it is for Americans. Net result: London is far from guaranteed to continue being Europe's pre-eminent tech hub.

Happily, it looks like the risk of a hard Brexit is lower now than it was a month ago. We're seeing the rise of soft Brexiteers like Ruth Davidson, who is proving a force to be reckoned with. That's a positive.

I don't mind a bit of weakness in the government if it means we get a more sensible Brexit and - in the long run - better access to trade and talent. It could be useful for the lead Brexit negotiator to be able to say to Brussels, 'We'll never get that through, don't you know how vulnerable we are domestically?' It's much like a businessperson's ability to blame 'the Board' when you're a facing a tough deal. Sometimes apparent weakness can be an advantage. 'I'd love to agree to that, but I'll never get it past my Board.' Leaders with overwhelming domestic power can't use this tactic. (Imagine Putin trying it.)

Meanwhile, though, the clock is ticking on Brexit negotiations, we've now used up more than 3/24ths of the available time, with zero progress so far and a lot of distraction in the short term future. The Brexit negotiation plan - such as it existed in the first place - has been ripped up. Some Brexiteers are now hinting there might no longer be a mandate for coming out of the customs union. This would be a fundamental change to the pre-Election negotiating plan.

I'm worried about the time just slipping away and the UK getting a poor deal as a result of political dithering. If Theresa May were a project manager she'd be fired.

There's also a more hidden cost: all the things that we're NOT talking about, not working on, not improving, because our politicians and civil servants are (understandably) distracted by preparing for Brexit. There's no time or focus left for improving our childcare policies, our healthcare system, our environmental practices, while the Brexit clock is ticking. This work will be delayed for years while our brightest minds work on needless minutiae like how to re-establish flight path agreements and financial regulations with the minimum of disturbance. What a colossal waste of talent and energy.

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