Brexit wouldn’t be the first deal to be off before it’s concluded. As I wrote in WealthBeing, every deal I’ve been involved with has been off at least once. The pattern is familiar to me: general agreement, lots of to-ing and fro-ing to a place that seems agreed until someone says “I can’t accept X”. No matter how things are going there’s always an X -an emotional outpouring resulting from the stress of making a significant step such as buying or selling an enterprise.
This is the time for the experts to take the heat put of the situation and come up with something that gets the deal done. These fixes aren’t deep and meaningful but get the thing over the line. So there are many variations which don’t connect with the essence of the deal but allow both parties to heave a sigh of relief. In my case it was a retention of 10% of the sale price and this could be a way out of this impasse: we “owe” £40bn and we have agreed to agree a free trade deal. Clearly the free trade deal isn’t agreed and if it isn’t concluded we would (as it stands) have paid our dues and got no free trade deal in return.
So how to address this? Ignore the reasons and just work some numbers. Assume on March 29th that we won’t get a free trade deal by 2022 and will end up with WTO arrangements and all the trouble that may cause. Estimate the amount required to mitigate the cost of moving to WTO – £10bn? And withhold this pending a free trade deal. Spend it over the next four years on the things required to facilitate WTO and cross border trade in Ireland. If we get a free trade deal then pay it to the EU. If not then we can carry on in reasonable good order. It could be double counting I know but it avoids being stuck half in the EU; gives the EU an incentive to agree free trade; and also enables us to negotiate other free trade deals in the next 4 years.
Will this happen? Sadly I think not. What is really missing from this process is a properly functioning parliament: a place where people talk (parlay). The essence of our system, a long lasting political system, is that we vote emotionally, in the privacy of the booth, for a representative to hear what we feel and turn it into cogent thoughts: “accept the feeling examine the thoughts” as therapists say. Our MPs are not using their rational brains but their emotional side. This achieves nothing in my view: every resignation reduces the brain power to solve this most complex problem and adds to the confusion. When have you solved a problem emotionally? When you found friends who agreed that you were ABSOLUTELY RIGHT? Or when you found someone who could help you see what is actually going on and what the sensible outcome could be?
It’s not just the UK parliament that is emoting either. There is much feeling attached to the European project and, in my view, its reluctance to give David Cameron something substantial was a big contributor to the NO vote. The UK is not the only country with deep unrest. So what do good leaders do? Listen to the grievances. Then lead: take people to a better place. Treaties are commonly created after periods of violent unrest. But Maastricht was created in peacetime. Is it time to assemble a Congress (in Dublin?) and revise it? To consider how the European Union may better serve its citizens than currently?
That will take time. In the meantime I advocate a business like approach. Business, the engine of wealth creation, has values but is essentially pragmatic. Will we listen to our pragmatic side or are we stuck in a land of confusion where rational thought has fled? Was Aldous Huxley right when he said: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” I hope not. At least we have a woman in charge (at the time of writing).