With politics in chaos following an attempt to unseat the prime minister by Tory MPs and a no deal Brexit looming ever closer its high time that the industry spoke out publicly, says Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker.
Just when you thought that the Brexit negotiations were reaching their end game, the capacity of politicians to throw a spanner into the works never ceases to amaze, disappoint and inspire despair. The governing political party of the day is tearing itself apart (not for the first time) over Europe, the pound is see-sawing and businesses are left with continuing uncertainty and doubt when they should be looking forward with confidence into the New Year.
It’s an oft repeated mantra by business leaders that politics is best left to the politicians and that business should not comment on or intervene in the political process, but at a time when politics is intervening in business and providing a clear and present danger to its continued health and vitality, how long can such a stance hold?
Almost everyone in the business community, including those actively involved in the infrastructure sector, is clear that a no deal Brexit would be a disaster, leading to extreme uncertainty, chaos at borders and a loss of confidence and ultimately jobs that would do untold damage to firms and communities across the country. Following last night’s vote of Tory MPs to back their leader, however, nothing seems to have changed and we have the chaotic spectacle of continuing talk of no confidence, political strife and plotting as the 29 March 2019 Brexit deadline date looms ever closer. Make no mistake about it, a no deal Brexit is now a real possibility, unless parliament intervenes to stop it.
Meanwhile, business is in despair. CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “Politicians must finally stop the endless infighting of the past 30 months and come together to secure a workable Brexit deal. Companies and the country have had enough of chaos. Uncertainty is throttling firms and threatening jobs, not in the future but right now. Firms are desperate for clarity and need to know for certain a no deal Brexit will not happen. Until they do, damage to investment, jobs and future growth will continue.”
Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, was even more scathing. “The last thing businesses needed today was even more uncertainty – and yet politics has managed to deliver on that once again,” he said. “Many business leaders, along with the rest of the country, will be tearing their hair out at the state of Westminster politics at the moment. We are edging closer and closer to no deal as a result of constant can-kicking and internal domestic political strife,” said Martin.
Firms working in the infrastructure sector have much to lose from a no deal exit from the European Union. There are already reports of developers, contractors and specialists stockpiling materials ahead of Britain leaving the EU, with the giant Hinkley Point C project revealing recently that it has contingencies in place in the event of a no-deal Brexit according to the project’s delivery director. Against such a background, construction costs seem certain to rise along with no end in sight to the uncertainty.
Given that businesses working across construction will be hard hit by a no deal Brexit, rather than sit on their hands while the politicians continue to edge closer to a cliff-edge departure from the EU, it’s probably time for the sector’s representative bodies and key leaders to come together to inject a dose of reality into the current debate. With the clock ticking, politicians and the country might just take note of what they have to say.
Andy Walker is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence.