Welcome to my blog, which I started way back in December 2002 - long before social media was a thing! With the advent of Facebook, Twitter etc. I don't write that often here now, but you never know when I might feel the urge to do so.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
I can't help feeling sad today.
I grew up in a world where Europe was our future, where our horizons were expanding and dictatorships falling to democracy. When the Berlin Wall fell, I rejoiced and wished I was there.
Now, the reverse seems to be the case.
Brexit means that I now live in a country where politics have become even less about consensus (something I never thought possible) and even more about tribalism, point scoring and dogma than ever before.
Lies and backstabbing are back in high fashion (remember the conduct of the Tories during the AV referendum?), and the level of political discourse is mostly quite pathetic.
The referendum campaign last year followed exactly that pattern: outright lies, othering and even overt racism. Anything, in fact, other than being truthful about what the options were, and what each might mean.
The result was a close call comparable to the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum (also 52:48), the result of which the government rejected.
The Tory Government who started all of this were plainly ill prepared for the result, and we've been dealing with the consequences ever since. In the words of (eurosceptic) constitutional lawyer David Allen Green "They do not know what they are doing".
So, after 9 months of bluster, incompetence and finger pointing at "elites" and "experts" we arrive here - for today is the day the Tories throw the economy over the side of a cliff in a big red lying bus.
All for political expediency.
So, reality check time.
All of the talk in the media has been of trade agreements and opportunity. Which is fine, as far as it goes - businesses by their nature look outwards, and seek opportunity wherever they can. My own company is no different in that regard.
As ever our politicians seem to have a limited grasp on how businesses actually work (not surprising as most of them have never worked in a real business).
They seem to think it's all about tariffs - but that's only a very small part of the picture.
It's true that just-in-time supply chains (think Nissan) may be badly affected, and I imagine that the port of Dover is at particular risk of gridlock due to the type and volume of traffic it carries and the limited space it has available for greatly expanded customs facilities. Agriculture is also potentially at major risk due to the EU subsidies it will lose and the high tariffs which tend to apply on agricultural products.
But the majority of the UK economy isn't manufacturing, agriculture etc. (and hasn't been for a long time) - it is services. Services cover everything from financial services to call centres and technical and legal services. Some deal exclusively with UK markets, but many are international in nature.
One thing many people may not appreciate is that creative and technical industries such as software development are also services.
That is the industry I can claim to know something about - running a software company since 2004 has taught me a thing or two about selling software products (e-services) worldwide.
For example, it's taught me that while the US, China and India are huge potential markets, the EU is at least as big as any other. The UK market is a minnow by comparison with all of them.
It has also taught me that nations protect their services markets by different means (e.g. India applies a "withholding tax" to foreign owned businesses), and the US has different sales tax rules for each and every state you trade with. The EU is a very easy place to trade by comparison.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that the EU is our largest market. If I had to draw a picture of our typical customer it would be a German engineering company.
As a result Brexit represents an existential threat to us. We already trade with India, China, the USA, Australia etc. - but they can't make up for throwing up barriers between us and the Single Market. Inevitably, our future is at risk.
Note that Trade Agreements such as CETA can't fix any of this, as they tend to only cover goods rather than services.
What makes this even worse is that the UK Government isn't even talking about any of this - they're still obsessing about straight bananas and "Taking Back Control". So forgive me if I mourn rather than celebrate today.
Not only are taking away a core part of my identity, they're going to throw our entire business sector over the cliff as well.
I guess the only consolation is that - in a country where technical and mathematical illiteracy is seen as a source of pride - the worsening skills shortage that "taking back control" implies is likely to raise salaries in the software industry generally.
So I guess ultimately we'll be OK while the country falls apart, the NHS shrivels, the deficit spirals, the and people we care about struggle to cope in a shrinking economy they are priced out of while an unaccountable political elite gloats about how they've "taken back control".Forgive me if that is scant consolation for all of this.