Brexit Blues

On the basis of indicative votes, we now know what Parliament wants, or rather, what it doesn’t want to do with Brexit, which is anything.  There is a distinct absence, a lack, a void.  It’s great for nihilists but no one else.  We are no nearer a resolution to Britain’s current crisis than we were previously. 

All this would be more acceptable if it didn’t have an impact on people outside of the Westminster bubble.  However, farmers think in 18-month cycles: can anyone tell them with certainty to where their goods will be sold and shipped in 2020? Can industrialists plan out production?  Can anyone starting out a business today know if they can hire specialists from Spain or Denmark in 6 months’ time, let alone a year? 

Uncertainty is the bane of investment: all investment is a calculated risk.  The risks teeter into unacceptable without knowledge of the marketplace or business environment.  Those who cheerfully advocate for a no-deal Brexit seem to lose this fact amidst their enthusiasm for burning bridges with our nearest trading partners. 

I have personal experience of what uncertainty is doing to the economy: I am presently unemployed and have been so for nearly 6 months.  Brexit is not the sole author of this misfortune, and indeed, I’m lucky compared to many.   Nevertheless, Brexit has added a layer of difficulty to my job search and employment history.

I joined a Dutch firm in 2016, just prior to the referendum.  At the time, this company was very well established in London: in some respects, it still is.  However, after the referendum, there began a slow shift, which was clearly an attempt to de-risk the situation.  My boss was based in London: in a restructure, her role was moved to Amsterdam and she was let go.  Similar moves occurred throughout the business.  As I looked around me in my office, I was keenly aware of colleagues who had come to London from all over the European Union; their roles were quietly and slowly shifted or eliminated.  The centre of gravity tilted away from London, taking employment and employees away with it.

Eventually, I changed jobs.  Fortunately, my new role was with a company whose main focus was the UK.  However, there were risks there too: materials necessary for the company’s production were stockpiled in anticipation of trade possibly being cut off.  Furthermore, my role was made redundant after 6 months: the company moved the team I had assembled from working on a riskier area, which I represented, to a more established one.   The word “Brexit” was not mentioned: it didn’t need to be.  When uncertainty becomes part of the landscape, it shifts a business’s calculations, whether consciously or unconsciously.   Fear of the unknown pushes decisions more towards hunkering down, rather than expansion or trying new things.  I was granted a reasonable settlement: I am nearly at the end of it.

The job hunt, to say the least, has been daunting. I have a PhD in Creative Writing; I am towards the end of my studies for a second PhD in Engineering.  I have worked in IT for 23 years, leading teams which have developed e-commerce solutions.  I have worked in project management for over 20 years.  I am a skilled communicator and writer.  I have German and Dutch language skills, management experience, plenty of good references.   I am an expert in online communities. For the past 6 months, I have sat down nearly every day, gotten on my proverbial bike, and looked for work.  I have had some interviews: nothing has worked out.  I have noticed that the number of opportunities has been shrinking.  I see this on a day to day basis: as risk heaps up, so does the unwillingness to invest in new ventures and people.  More and more, it seems like firms are just replacing vital personnel that they lose through natural attrition.  I don’t recall a job hunt where as many positions I’ve applied for have simply been withdrawn because they decided not to proceed with hiring at all.

I must add a vital caveat: I was a witness in a high-profile court case, and thus anyone Googling me may find that reference daunting, even though I did nothing wrong.  While that might explain some of the rapidity in rejections I’ve received, it doesn’t explain the overall apparent contraction in the number of roles.   I should add that Brexit is not the only reason, but it is an important factor which is making the entire business environment much sourer.

I know that I am fortunate.  I have prospects; my education and experience should see me through eventually.  My family will help me to the extent they can.  However, not everyone is as lucky as I am: what happens to them?  Brexit has not made their lives any better; the dithering in Parliament is toxic, slipping a slow poison into the economy’s bloodstream.  It doesn’t need to manifest in anything as dramatic as a full-blown crash.  Rather, it alters the course of investment; money and production are shifted abroad.  People are forced to accept lower wages and / or more uncertainty.  Businesses rein in their investment strategies.  Then lo and behold, we find that we have less than what thought we did, we find that the economy is less than what we planned it to be.  There is no £350 million per week for the NHS, and companies wonder why they should come here when they get clearer access to the European Union’s market by investing in business-friendly Ireland or the Netherlands.  Young talent from all over the Continent will then go to Amsterdam and Dublin.  London fades.  Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool also diminish.  When that occurs, where will those wealthy individuals who led the headlong charge out of the European Union be?  What comfort will be empty slogans such as “Take back control”?  Will anyone say to the likes of John Redwood, who complained that Remainers had something against freedom, “freedom to do what”?  How many lives will be impacted before the final reckoning comes?  What will the cost be, and who will pay?  I suspect it won’t be the Jacob Rees Moggs of this world, but rather it will be the warehouse operator in Leeds, the engineer on the factory floor in Swindon, and yes, the IT professional in Cambridgeshire.  We are all going to pay or are paying for someone else’s fever dream; the best we can hope for is that we all wake up before we fork out any more than we already have.

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