“… that our devices still are overthrown.
Our thoughts are ours, their end none of our own.” (W Shakespeare, Hamlet)
Similarly, the Romans said: “men make plans and the gods laugh”, and nowadays folk say “random, yeah?”. What we know is that things never turn out as we expect.
Who would have thought that within a few little weeks, we would have voted to leave the EU, seen markets panic and re-stabilise, seen a Prime Minister resign and a new one take his place, our second female Prime Minister, seen Boris Johnson in the political wilderness only to emerge within a fortnight as the new Foreign Secretary, see England knocked out of Euro 2016 and Portugal the winner, and Andy Murray winning Wimbledon again? Well, one of those events was fairly predictable.
So perhaps it is not surprising also if, in its young life, this blog has tended towards the political instead of business and tax, during the most interesting and engrossing political times I have ever seen. We even carried out a survey and its results were fascinating. The stats are interesting in themselves, and you can read the full report on this site, but the comments were a source of inspiration.
From that survey, I wanted to pick up on some of the issues people raised. There was clearly a degree of concern about falling sterling values as regards imports, but then others pointed out that their exports had suddenly become great value to buyers. A US company raised concerns that UK customers were becoming more cautious and they may therefore be re-thinking their European strategy.
And the beauty of a survey is that you get some great wisdom from some of the responses. Within all the gloom, was the comment that uncertainty leads to investment in tangibles – gold, vintage assets, property and so on, so some who dealt in them had seen good times. In fact, as with every thing that happens, there are winners and losers, and some pointed out the EU funding for research projects and other development areas will be a great loss to some businesses.
A few very powerful comments explained that the referendum was unconstitutional, suggesting variously that it is undemocratic to force 48% of the population to follow the will of 52%, and that 60:40 or even 75:25 should have been the measure for change. I am not sure that we would ever get anything done if we went there, but the points were well argued. Likewise the view was expressed by several that we are a representative democracy and Parliament not Referenda make the laws. I understand that this is a matter that will go before the Courts in due course, and if Brexit actually goes to Parliament for a vote, further intrigue will doubtless follow.
I have heard suggestions from many sources, including the survey, that the vote was invalid because the politicians lied, or in some way misrepresented the facts. Interesting that politicians should ever be accused of such things.
I have focused a lot on those who were angry with the outcome. Indeed, one contributor said “I strongly feel your survey was biased towards the remain position and campaign. There is no mention of the opportunities to regain democracy and sovereign control of our own parliament. Nothing about the opportunities opened up by being free to trade with the rest of the world… And the challenge now is whether you are bold enough to include this text in your blog.” Sir, if you have read the other blog posts you will know I was extremely equivocal, but Remain lost and panic reigned, and I wanted to understand what that meant!
The positive comments about Brexit were numerous, but cautious. That seems sensible to me. Many said things to the effect that as one door closes another opens. We do not know where Brexit will lead us, or where it will lead Europe for that matter, but it could be good for everyone.
The appointment of Theresa May did much to stabilise the position for us, and the responses after her appointment were quick to point that out. It is fascinating to see so many saying that they do not imagine trade and business with EU States changing much but that they feel they will be able to do better business outside of the EU as well.
I doubt that this will be my last blog posting on Brexit, but I think there is an overall message that came through from the survey, which I would be remiss if I did not mention. We always fear the unknown; it is part of human nature. We, like all things, suffer from inertia, and we fear change. I quoted Hamlet in the title, not only to demonstrate that I have read it, but because those profound words remind me that success comes from a combination of planning and adaptability. We should always expect that our plans will never quite work the way we want, as David Cameron surely discovered. We should not allow ourselves to be tied to a particular set of outcomes that we cannot control, like a gambler who puts his last note on a horse. Far better in life and in business to be prepared to handle any outcome.
But that is far easier said than done.