The United Kingdom has voted to leave the EU. (Sorry I used the B word in a previous column but I can’t bring myself to type it again.) As I write this on the afternoon of Friday 24 June I find the future looks more unknown to me than at any time in my adult life. I really don’t know what this will mean.
I have been clear all along that I supported the Remain option. I am disappointed with the result but there are two things I know for certain.
First, I repeat what I said in my article Why Startups Should Ignore the EU Debate. Regardless of what happens next we have innovation, passion and the human spirit on our side. A far more powerful set of levers than any Government action or political decision. The main focus for any and every business is to keep building. Stick to your strategy. Grow your market. Develop your teams.
It will not be easy. In the immediate aftermath I have heard remain supporters talking about tragedy or disaster. One large company JP Morgan is also talking already about moving staff away from the UK. Another IAG has issued a coded profit warning. This is all wrong. It shows people as bad losers and it misses the point. Everything that happens in future is a choice as well. Only leaving has been decided. Nothing else.
A democratic decision has been made. We now need to work to make the best outcome from this result for the whole country. And beyond.
Any startup, any SaaS company, any business in fact needs to keep a calm head. Words like turmoil, chaos and confusion will be bandied around. Don’t get sucked into the negative. Even if the doom mongers are right it will not help. So a few things to bear in mind.
Expect the unexpected
So many things may change. The mechanics, legal ramifications and logistics of leaving the EU have not been explored. Both campaigns have simplified the issues, ignored major questions and misled the electorate.
Some of the more obvious impacts of this are already starting. David Cameron has signalled his resignation. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is under challenge. Nicola Sturgeon talks of another referendum on Scottish independence. Sinn Fein are also calling for a vote on the unification of Ireland.
The ripples are also spreading. Debate about leaving will be intensified in other parts of the EU. The UK referendum is already on the agenda for the upcoming election in Spain.
Get your head around the possibility of change. In almost any area of Government, politics or economics. New leaders will emerge and some major public figures will fade from view. Different values and ideas will be discussed. Some good, some bad. Expect the unexpected.
Its not just about trade
Most of the economic ‘debate’ has been about trade agreements. Note not trade. Trade is driven by businesses. For thousands of years human beings have been finding ways to trade. And overcoming barriers unimaginable today. International trade agreements only affect this at the margins. With the advent of the WTO there are also global limits to this impact.
So reaching trade agreements is not the economic priority in the new world. I suspect this question will fade rather quickly. Some sort of interim arrangement will be made to fudge over the immediate period after the UK leaves the EU. The rest will be left to the sort of trade talks that only geeks like me even know are happening.
That does not mean economics are not important. The debate will centre on big areas like welfare, health and education. For businesses there may also be change in other critical areas. Corporate and international tax policies. Public funding for business through bodies such as Scottish Enterprise and Innovate UK. Finance and co-operation in science and research. All may be subject to radical change.
Anger, disappointment and the blame game
I have just listened to Alastair Campbell on TV. Looking tired and drawn he mused about the bizarre situation we now find. Donald Trump is the voice of the dispossessed in the US. Boris Johnson may emerge as the spokesman for the disaffected in the UK.
The tone and texture of life in the UK will also be affected by the discontent that runs deep in many parts of the world. Since 2008 so called populist movements and causes have adumbrated this change. Signs range from the Arab Spring. To the election of right wing Governments in Poland and Hungary. And the emergence of left wing parties in Italy, Spain and Greece.
Many of those who voted Leave on 23 June did so in a mood of anger. Protest against our established leaders and institutions of Government. Those hopes for change will be disappointed. For example, there will be no change in the management or control of immigration in the next couple of years. We could even see a rush of people trying to get into the UK before things change.
The remainers who are grumbling now will soon fall silent. There will be anger and blame. Most of it will come from the same constituencies. The unemployed. The white male working class. Those in areas blighted by industrial decline. Poor pensioners. All the people who feel the country has abandoned them.
A battle is lost but the fight goes on
I fear I the above seems negative. That is not my intention. I just want to set the scene. Negative facts, emotions and choices will dominate for a long time to come. Please don’t let this drag you down.
Voting to leave does not mean that the leave campaigners are now running the country. Both campaigns were in any case motley and ill matched groupings. Who agreed on little else other than remaining in or leaving the EU.
And the winners are right in one important fundamental. The people of the UK are in charge of their own destiny. This is not changed by leaving the EU. We can all can vote, campaign and work for the vision of the country we want to see.
So no matter how passionate you were about remain, you now have the opportunity to shape the UK in your image. Help build a better society. And really stick it to the nasty elements that lurked close to the surface of the leave campaign.
For me the best way to respond to the Leave vote is not to wail and moan about a terrible decision. It is to work to build a better future. Put the UK at the forefront of human rights. Stand up for liberty, democracy and the rule of law everywhere. Lead the international effort to resolve crises and civil wars. Help our economy harness new technologies as a force for good. Build a more sustainable future for our young people to inherit.
This is a bit of a random collection of thoughts and reactions. In the long road to a better world, a battle has been lost. Prepare yourself for the fight to go on.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.