How will the ‘Brexit Years’ be remembered?

With a new year, came the arrival of Brexit. After more than four years of hostile debates and arguments since the 2016 EU Referendum, Britain has moved into a new age outside of European Union (EU).

Business Leader spoke to some industry leaders about how future generations will view the last few years and what impact it will have on business, the economy and our everyday lives for the next 20 years.

Jackie Fast, Founder of Rebel Pi and Managing Partner at Sandbox Studios

If the financial crisis was a wake up call, Brexit and the pandemic was the last straw. Future generations have had enough. They have been left a world in shambles. Rather than pass the buck as so many generations have done before, they are already active. They are not just demanding change, they are making it happen as evidenced by Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, sustainability walkouts and more. Because of this, the future generation has a burning desire to make things better.

This will impact everything from the way we work, who we work for, and what we work on. Gone will be the days of Gordon Gekko and instead businesses that thrive will have purpose at their core. We are already seeing this shift, but in 20 years from now it will become unrecognizable. It will not just be an idea or a ‘nice to have’, instead it will be an entire world driven by passion and led with purpose.

Those leading the charge will no longer be known as rebels or rule breakers, instead they will be known as visionaries. People in the future looking back at these years will say this was the tipping point.

Nick Wright, Fans for Brands

Work has intervened several times over the years to cancel, postpone, or interrupt family holidays. At the time it seemed so crucial, vital, essential. It just had to be done. The funny thing is, looking back, I have no recollection of any of the supposedly business critical issues causing the disruption. I just recall the messed-up holidays. And so, with Brexit. My suspicion is that history will characterise ‘the Brexit years’ as a classic case of mistaking the urgent for the important.

With the benefit of hindsight, I am convinced future commentators will point to more fundamental and defining agents of change that reached tipping points during the ‘Brexit years’. The Fourth Industrial Revolution in all its varied and manifest forms together with the embedding of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) principles will impact business, the economy, and our everyday lives far more globally than what is, at root, a parochial issue.

The late British PM Harold Macmillan famously noted that “events, dear boy, events” distract and determine the course of governments and therefore countries and economies. I suspect future generations will come to see Brexit as one such ‘event’. A tactic in search of a strategy. The wood obscuring the trees. Let’s also hope that the future does not look back to ‘the Brexit years’ and identify them as the moment we failed to embrace and capitalise on these more game-changing opportunities.

Chris Atkinson, UK Managing Director, Strategic Leadership

During the years of Brexit negotiation I frequently facilitated leadership conversations with multinational companies based in the UK. The conversations inevitably generated the term VUCA at some point to describe the various unknowns organisations were trying to grapple with whilst they created their strategy despite have a near total lack of clarity about the ever changing details and timescales.  This led most organisations to advocate for a more agile approach to leadership and thus a new industry focus was created for consultancies and L&D organisations like our own.

What makes the Brexit years all the more interesting from our 2021 standpoint is just how small in scale the Brexit scenario now seems again the consequences of the pandemic. For me therefore, the legacy of the Brexit was to give leaders an early warning about how profoundly unpredictable the world was about to become, the smart companies started developing more flexible leaders, people who would be more comfortable working with unknowns. For those companies theory very quickly become reality.

Eric Silvestre, CFA Senior Investment Research Analyst at Alpha Portfolio Management

Brexit has been so divisive that one would expect the topic to remain controversial for generations to come. Not only causing friction between ‘remainers’ and ‘leavers’, but latterly stirring longstanding nationalist rifts within the Union. Talk of a pending constitutional crisis doesn’t feel too alarmist. At the current time, we also have the unwelcome distraction of Covid-19 and thereafter its legacy.

However, similar to other political events, people are likely to develop ‘debate fatigue’ – time goes by, acceptance becomes the norm and arguments dwindle. After all, Britain went through a similar process (in reverse) when joining the ECC way back in 1973, which was then reaffirmed by a UK referendum with a majority of 67.2%. Perhaps starting an international relationship may be an easier process than ending one, yet the country moved forward despite the fact that 32.8% of the population had hoped for a different future.

What will the UK economy look like without us having to contribute c. £8bn pa to the EU? In the short-term, evidence suggests that Brexit has driven up costs for some businesses, including higher duty charges, courier and administrative costs. Furthermore, British factories recently reported the steepest increase in supplier delivery times compared to other major economies.

Despite trade being free of tariffs and quotas, the increased checks and paperwork required at the border will no doubt cause some headaches. Whether these costs are absorbed by businesses or passed on to consumers through higher prices, is something that investors are likely to watch closely.

Nearly 50 years on, Britain has just re-entered the global market place on a standalone basis with much less economic and political significance. How we adjust and adapt to this, will be the real legacy for the next generation.