Has Brexit fatigue helped the construction sector?

30th January 2020

I can remember the morning of the Brexit referendum result. By 7.30am I was waiting for my colleague in a motorway services. From there, we would head to a new business pitch meeting. You’ll remember because it was only four short years ago, that it was all anyone could talk about that day. There was a television screen showing the media dissection and I watched it. I exchanging comments with passers-by until I left for my potential client’s offices.

At that meeting, only 11 hours had passed since the result, there was already a feeling of impending concern… The housing market would not fare well in this uncertain transition. That same summer, I put my flat on the market. Prime location and very nice space, it would be a further 9 months before we got our first offer.

Friends who work on sites told us there was palpable tension between European immigrant workers and vocal Leavers. The issues felt deeply personal and invaded work, home and every available inch of the BBC website.

Since June 2016 we’ve had two general elections, two changes of prime minister, fits and starts of activity from the “Remainers”. We have come tantalisingly close to deals, no deals and leaving the EU more times than anyone except the Brexit secretaries (for there have been quite a few) care to remember. For four years now the public, parliament and Brussels have talked exhaustively about Brexit.

Well now, Brexit is this week. Or at least I think it is. I’m hesitant because despite past news, there’s hardly any coverage of it at all in these final days. I think – I’m no political editor – that this is because a lot of passion has gone out of us. The last land slide conservative win for Boris Johnson serving as a mandate from the public. Would the government should please just Get Brexit Done! Whether you’re a Remainer or a Leaver, the endless saga of the UK extricating itself from the EU has been exhausting. Like a form of water torture. We’re now so excited at the prospect of giving up. So no less than £100k has been raised to try to ring in our own independence day on Big Ben.

Rather than exiting like a rocket ship or crashing out in some style it’s all going to end like a candle being snuffed out.

But here’s why we should be thankful.

There has been too much time and too much sitting around for anyone to hold onto their purse strings indefinitely. When change is afoot, people (I’m looking at you, finance directors) stop spending money. It’s a safeguard just in case there’s a run and money becomes less valuable. No small threat in times of unprecedented political activity which half of the country doesn’t like.

But no one can hold out forever. Eventually people started buying and selling their housing in a freer flow again. They realised that this process was going to take a lot longer than anyone knew. The reluctance to spend a little cash to bolster investment, customer satisfaction or infrastructure slipped away.

Of course every time there’s a major move we see the pound drop, the FTSE hiccoughs and Laura Kuenssberg gives us all a fright. But the resilience of our market and the disenfranchisement so many now feel towards the subject means that business has continued to move along.

While there have been pinch points along the way, most of the time, it’s been easy to forget that we’re in the middle of a complex legal and political process. That legislation which has ticked over in the background of our country’s wheeling and dealing, is to be systematically unpicked. We forget this because other than blaming it for bad business, we don’t know the implications.

We send our thoughts to companies whose business plans rely on international logistics, global trade or shipping. Obviously that there are players who have a more concrete interest in the outcome of Brexit than consumer confidence.

The sector has been through a lot of hurt. And indeed, it’s not over until it’s over. Until we see what the aftermath that Friday’s Brexit deadline brings to us. It’s possible that there will be a fine future ahead for our country. If nothing else, we have a lot of practice at being an Island. 

Brexit
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