Business is faced with years of uncertainty following the Brexit vote but people are trying to make the best of a very bad job.
That was clear at a Downtown meeting in Manchester this week where our members and guests resolved to use the northern spirit of enterprise to seek out new opportunities if we are to be outside the EU.
THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE.
Political uncertainty remains although I think Theresa May will be the next Prime Minister. However some members at the meeting felt that Andrea Leadsom’s claim to be the real Brexiteer will win her much support amongst the grass roots. The anti EU zealots are still alive and well in the Tory Party. They are suspicious that Theresa May, who was on the Remain side, will cave in to Brussels. Mrs May has countered that displaying a sense of humour that we all thought she completely lacked. Having been described by Ken Clarke as “a bloody difficult woman”, Mrs May remarked that the next person to think that would be the EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Brave talk but the negotiations are going to be hard and the darkening economic landscape is there for all to see.
Whoever the Tories choose, they are likely to be Prime Minister well into the 2020s having won the General Election against the unelectable Jeremy Corbyn. It looks as if the Labour moderates have failed to remove him. A week ago Wallasey MP Angela Eagle was poised to challenge. The pressure on Corbyn was at its maximum but she didn’t make her move. It may still come but in the past week Eagle has faced a left wing pro Corbyn revolt in her constituency and the leader strengthened his position in the wake of the Chilcot Inquiry. Corbyn reminded the nation of his opposition to the Iraq War whereas Tony Blair looked like a broken man.
Labour moderates need to realise the game is up. The Labour Party is now a socialist party. The political space just to the left of centre is waiting for them. In any case there will now be a ruthless process of deselection of moderate MPs mounted by the Corbyn supporting Momentum movement making them pay for their “treachery” to the leader.
THE BUSINESS OUTLOOK.
Against that political background there was agreement at the Downtown meeting that the next three years would be difficult. Not only would the UK’s relationship with the EU change but the EU itself might change. Tom Cannon from Liverpool University forecast the pound would be worth a dollar by Christmas as the American currency strengthened. He forecast big cities like Leeds and Liverpool would thrive in the post Brexit world but people in the communities that had voted most strongly to leave would suffer most from rising petrol and food prices.
Neil McInroy from the Centre For Local Economic Strategies felt that Chancellor George Osborne would go and the Northern Powerhouse, with which he is so closely associated, will slow or stop. It is difficult to see May (Maidenhead) or Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) having the same feel for the project as the man from Tatton.
Our own Chief Executive Frank McKenna said warnings from business, about how their bottom line costs would rise if we were out of the EU, had been drowned out by the noise of the politicians. He also feared extreme candidates could affect next year’s mayoral contests in Liverpool and Manchester.
So much uncertainty on the business and political front as Downtown’s business community looks to the future.