When I have written about the risks of Brexit before, I always said everything would depend on what sort of deal we got. Now we have one. Sort of. It has its flaws, but it was always bound to contain a series of compromises. I have also always said the worst outcome would be a no-deal exit from the EU.
I now commend this deal!
If you have any influence on your MP or any other, please use it. Please, please get behind this deal, however many reservations you may have about the details. Let’s face it, whatever we do about Northern Ireland will have to be less than ideal unless we all stay in the EU. Let’s take what’s on offer. There isn’t another one coming down the road. Even a bad one gets us the interim period in which to make necessary adjustments and might rescue such things as cooperation on policing and security.
Why should Labour support the deal?
I really hope the Labour Party doesn’t use this situation to precipitate a General Election. That could push us over the deadline and into a No-Deal exit and would look like they were putting party before country. If Labour won, do you really think they could get us a better Brexit? Anyway, a General Election would resolve nothing. Parties would fight on so many issues, you wouldn’t know what sort of Brexit voters were preferring.
Should the people vote on the deal?
Perhaps a second referendum would be the best way forwards, but we would need more than two options. Perhaps it should ask (1) Do you want what’s on offer? If not, (2) would you prefer to leave the EU with no arrangements or remain in it? A simple choice of three would lead to endless arguments over interpreting the result, unless the majority voted for the deal. If it was split into three roughly equal numbers, the Brexiters would claim those voting for the deal wanted to leave the EU so should be added to the number of hard-brexiters, whilst remainers would argue the country had rejected a no-deal and therefore should remain in the EU.
Save the deal!
Whatever happens, please let’s not play into the hands of the hard-brexiters with their far right agenda.
Let’s all remember the Armistice which ended World War I
Representatives of all the countries involved in the First World War signed the Armistice to end it on 11 November 1918 at 11 am. There will soon be lots of events on its centenary to help us remember.
What am I doing in response to the centenary of the Armistice?
I recently announced that I have revised my book Be Victorious, Lessons from World War I for Business and Everyday Life .
I have now decided to make the e-book version free on Kindle for the 5 days from the 6th to the 10th November. After that it will revert to its current price of £2.99 .
The paper version will cost £3.99.
I hope you will learn something you can apply in your life, either in business or anything else.
I have written before about the risks of Brexit, especially a hard Brexit. I have not mentioned so far the risks arising from a hidden agenda. To be fair, some hard-Brexiters have been pretty open all along about their plans for a post-Brexit Britain, although others have not. However, the arguments around Brexit itself have largely drowned out almost everything else. Even the more honest hard-Brexiters (!) have kept their longer-term plans in the background, to say the least.
Who has a hidden agenda and why?
Many people don’t seem to have noticed that the hard-Brexiters are almost all on the right wing of the Conservative Party. Then there are the UKIP-ers who are mostly further right still. I know there are left-wing politicians who are in favour of Brexit, even a hard Brexit, but they are the exceptions. It is likely that many people who want Britain to leave the EU would be unhappy if they realised where we would be going after that, if the right-wingers had their way. Brexit could be an opportunity for the right wing to take over the Conservative Party and then the country.
What’s on the hidden agenda?
The right wingers believe in reducing regulations of all kinds.
Health and Safety
Many of these came about because British governments took the initiative before Europe took action. Naturally, there are others where the EU imposed the will of the rest of Europe on Britain. That’s what it is to be part of a group. However, once we are out of the EU, it will be easier for British governments to start axing regulations.
What else is on this agenda?
Right-wingers everywhere believe in cutting taxes, especially on incomes and profits, and cutting public expenditure. Yes! There are people who think we need more austerity. Seriously.
Shouldn’t businessmen like that? We could undercut foreign competition. Yes and no! Some do want to see cuts in taxes, in regulations and in public spending, but others are concerned about infrastructure and the need for a well-educated workforce. They also think business prospers in line with general prosperity. Sales require customers with money to spend.
Who has a hidden agenda close to you?
Who do you negotiate with, or have dealings with? Your clients? Suppliers? The unions? Are you letting them direct your attention to one issue, while planning to ambush you with something else? Try to find out what they really want and why.
Remember, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
As we are approaching the centenary of the end of the First World War, I am relaunching my book Be Victorious: Lessons for Business and Everyday Life from World War I. I have made some changes to the cover and the interior.
How does this book respond to the centenary?
If you haven’t read it yet, now is a good time to do so. Find out where we went wrong then and ask if you are going wrong now in the same way in the conflicts affecting you and your business.
We’ve heard a lot about the War, the suffering, its impact on the lives of lots of people at home as well as at the Front. But what have we learnt from it rather than about it?
Most commentators say the rebuff by the EU was the end for the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan. However, it’s not over until it’s over, and perhaps there’s a chance the EU will accept it, at the last minute. Is there a cunning strategy?
Why was the Chequers plan turned down by the EU?
I was surprised at the way the EU so totally rejected the Chequers plan. Whether you think it was a good plan or not, it looked like a basis for discussion. However, if we are to believe the EU’s spokespersons, we only ever had a choice of two deals:
The Norway Option
The Canada Option (a ‘Free Trade Agreement’).
I cannot see why there couldn’t be another option, if they developed a deal specifically for Britain. We’re not Norway, or Canada, yet the EU say the Prime Minister was wrong to try to cherry-pick a deal. Don’t negotiators always have to give and take?
What if Chequers was always a non-starter?
If it is true that we have only ever had a choice between two more-or-less fixed packages, what have they all been talking about for two years? Did our diplomats not know the difference between the EU’s real red lines and their bargaining positions? Why did the EU keep complaining that they didn’t know what the British really wanted, if it didn’t matter anyway?
Long before Chequers, how out-of-touch were the Brexiters and Remainers in 2016?
If anyone had made the EU’s position 100% clear before the Referendum, we could have voted for one option of four:
The Norway Option
The Canada Option
A No-deal Brexit
We wouldn’t have needed a second vote and it would have been almost impossible for anyone to ‘betray democracy.’
What’s Chequers got to do with your business?
When you negotiate with clients, suppliers or anyone else, are you in danger of wasting time and ending up with something you didn’t want? Ask yourself these questions:
Do you really communicate with the other party?
Do you understand the other party’s needs as well as wants?
I have written many times about the risks of Brexit, and I keep writing, because the risks are evolving, or at least my understanding of their probability and severity is. I am increasingly concerned that many brexiters underestimate the potential harm that a hard Brexit would cause. Apparently many EU leaders underestimate the harm a no-deal Brexit would do to the rest of the EU too. Any deal, no matter how poor, would enable the transitional arrangements to operate, and some arrangements would surely be made for such things as:
educational and business travel
law-enforcement and intelligence
In a no-deal Brexit, even the arrangements already negotiated would no longer stand.
Those who want no deal ignore the importance of goodwill
When we cross the deadline, we are bound to find things nobody has resolved. In the event of a deal, even a bad one, we can hope that common sense and goodwill would enable both sides to find ways around the difficulties, until they have made more permanent arrangements.
If there is no deal, it is likely that the atmosphere will be different. It is bad now, but could improve if a deal is done. Each side will blame the other for the failure to reach agreement. We can rely on the British tabloids to pour petrol on the flames. It would then be likely that officials on both sides of the Channel, would take a pedantic approach to every situation that falls into a grey area. They could be anyone from police and customs officers to local and national civil servants.
The recent scallop wars show how easily things can go wrong. Perhaps we Britons will find out what a hostile environment is like, when we apply for visas. Think of the Windrush scandal in reverse.
Can those who want no deal do any more harm after Brexit?
Yes! It is possible they have another agenda that is hiding behind Brexit. Am I a conspiracy theorist? No. I usually follow the cock-up theory of history. Of course, that one applies to Brexit too. I will write about this conspiracy risk in another blog.
Several councils in England are using algorithms, which are using data from many sources, within the council and, in some cases, other agencies. This has caused controversy over privacy and misuse of data.
Why are they doing it?
People have designed these algorithms to identify children at risk of abuse. Some councils are using another algorithm to identify children whom criminal gangs are likely to try to recruit. The systems can look at more data in minutes than humans can in days. This will enable social workers to concentrate on high-risk cases with all the data they need to make sensible decisions.
What are the risks?
If councils put so much data together from diverse sources, a hacker could have a feast.
The data councils have tends to be about poorer families. There is a risk that they will not notice at-risk children in better-off families. [That is a risk at present. The use of algorithms doesn’t affect it].
There are questions of the legality and morality of using data for purposes different from those for which it was collected, although any data can be accessed in order to prevent or detect crime.
What are the two big risks?
A council could take a child into care just because an algorithm said they should, perhaps wrongly stigmatising the parents.
Social workers could become so reliant on the system that they ceased using their knowledge, training, experience or common sense.
Do those risks not outweigh the advantages?
The risk that exists at the moment is that a child can slip through the net due to lack of resources, human error or failure to bring together information held by different departments or other bodies. All too often, a child has died despite warning signs, because no one person saw all the signs. Sometimes, a doctor, a policeman and a teacher all had their suspicions, but knew nothing of each other’s concerns. Nobody told the social worker.
Some people rely on ticking boxes without thinking, even using manual systems. A human needs to interpret data, whether you are safeguarding children, investigating a crime or assessing an insurance claim. Used rightly, an algorithm should free social workers from repetitive tasks and allow them to think about the information produced. People should take decisions. Not computers.
What’s this got to do with your business?
Most of us use statistics, and perhaps others should. We can mislead, or be misled, unless we learn how to use them properly. If you haven’t time to go on a course, try reading my little book, aimed at ordinary people, not mathematicians.
Gordon Brown has spoken, on the tenth anniversary of the 2008 financial crash, of his fears that another such event could happen sometime soon. Some say he was responsible for the downturn in the first place. I say Gordon Brown did not cause Lehman Brothers to go under. Even George Osborne commends Brown for his handling of the crisis when it occurred.
Why does he expect another crash?
Most governments have not learned the lessons of the last one, or not acted upon them, anyway.
Governments have still not regulated the banks closely enough
Many of the regulations don’t apply to other financial institutions
Some banks are still too big to be allowed to fail
Property prices still affect economies disproportionately
In addition, a lot of people are worried about the economic woes of Turkey: they could be contagious!
How will it compare with the last crash?
It would, in Gordon Brown’s opinion, be worse than the previous one for several reasons.
Governments can’t cut interest rates much more.
They won’t be able to throw such huge sums at the banks.
International cooperation is less likely, given the populist, nationalist politics of many countries.
I haven’t even mentioned the effects of Brexit!
So what’s that got to do with you?
Ask yourself a few questions.
Have you any plans for such a crash?
What did you do last time?
What did others in your industry do?
Did you learn any lessons?
Wouldn’t a crash be as bad for everyone?
No! Some people were better prepared than others last time. Some even saw and took opportunities.
People looked for more low-cost/low-quality products and services.
Investors desired cash more than equities, generally.
It was a good time to buy, if you could afford to wait it out.
Have you a strategy for survival? Perhaps now is the time to produce one. Have a chat with me, if you want an independent opinion.
I have just taken the Heart Age online test that you have probably heard of in the media. My result? Let’s just say I’m moving all my investments into short term. Or I would be if I trusted the results. If I had a dodgy heart, this test result could bring on a coronary!
What factors affect my heart age?
Three big things seem to have driven the results.
An underlying condition, for which I am getting treatment
My cholesterol level
My blood pressure
The results included advice to act to reduce items 2 and 3. There was not a question asking how or even whether my condition is being treated.
Would action on items 2 and 3 help my heart?
The reason for the bad results is that in answer to the relevant questions, I clicked on ‘Don’t know’. I don’t, because I have never been told what the figures mean. Therefore, when I have a routine check-up, I just wait to be told if the figures are up or down and do whatever the doctor or nurse recommends. I am on tablets which keep my cholesterol down, and my blood pressure has always been OK or better. I just don’t know the numbers.
Why does ‘don’t know’ mean heart problems?
That is another thing I don’t know. I assume the system inserts an average result. That implies most people have too much cholesterol and high blood pressure. Or is it just the ones taking the test?
What would make my heart younger?
Better diet and more exercise are the main recommendations. They are things I am already working on. Of course, dietary advice is constantly changing, as is advice about alcohol consumption. The only way to get a more useful picture of the health of your heart, or any other part of you, is to get a proper medical check-up and have a serious conversation with a doctor or other health professional.
Remember, stress is very bad for your heart.
Worrying about your health is bad for you. Don’t worry: just take sensible measures, based on sound medical advice. Also, try to reduce stress at work or in any area of life. A risk management consultation might help you get control of the risks in your business and so reduce some of the causes of stress. Have a word with me. There are various therapies which different people have found useful in managing stress, from massage to hypnosis. Try one.
The risks of a hard Brexit need to be assessed in the same way as any other risks. First look at the probability, then the severity, before considering your control measures. Not that most of us can control the risk in terms of probability. If you can: please do! Most of those who voted Leave probably believed we would still be able to trade with the EU as it was in everyone’s interests. It was. It is. But…
What is the probability of a hard Brexit?
I cannot remember anything being so hard to assess. It makes weather forecasting look like an exact science. If nobody would benefit from a hard Brexit, apart from a few self-seeking politicians, why is it at all likely?
The progress of the negotiations so far does not make me optimistic.
There are so many things that could go wrong: in Westminster, in Brussels and in 27 other capitals.
The Russians could interfere covertly.
One problem most of us face is that of trying to tell reality from perception. How much of what we are told is a negotiating ploy by either side? Will the EU offer us a deal at the last minute, regardless of the rhetoric? Will the extremists in parliament act rationally when it comes to the crunch?
What about the severity of a hard Brexit?
Again, it is hard to know what is reality rather than scaremongering. However, in the absence of ANY agreement, there would be no guarantee that any contact with the EU could be maintained, at least in the short run. You may argue that we can and do deal with countries outside the EU without much trouble. Yes. But we have treaties, agreements and other arrangements. In some cases, such as the USA, there are visa requirements and travel restrictions. Some arrangements depend on our being in the EU.
How could a hard Brexit affect your business?
You need to ask yourself what proportion of your sales goes to the EU. Then ask how realistic it would be to replace that with more sales in the UK or to non-EU countries.
Next, you need to ask what supplies you obtain from the EU. How important are they? This is not necessarily all about volume or percentage. You might spend only a small percent of your costs on some component or ingredient, but it could be crucial to the running of the business. How easily could you replace it with something made in the UK or elsewhere outside the EU? Or change your processes so you can do without it?
Then there’s the problem of a supply chain that crosses the Channel several times, as is common in the motor industry. Is yours like that? Does it have to be?
How time-sensitive are your supplies or sales? How seriously would bureaucratic delays at ports affect them? Would better planning be the answer?
Even if you think you are safe, check on the sources your suppliers depend on and ask what contingency plans they have.
You also need to consider your dependency on EU workers. Again, how can you replace them from the British workforce or from elsewhere?
How hard would hard be for you?
I remember an episode of Only Fools and Horses, where Del got involved with a singer with a lisp. He couldn’t pronounce his R’s. After a catastrophic performance, everyone was expressing anger. The singer said, “I’ve got a good voice. Does it matter that I can’t pronounce my R’s?”
Albert said, “It only matters if you’re singing songs with R’s in them.”
My point is that you could be worrying too much, if leaving the EU without a deal would affect only a small proportion of your costs or sales, or if you have alternative sources of supply.
Finally, what about a soft Brexit?
You cannot assume that a deal would remove or greatly reduce all the above risks. Not every industry or every activity will necessarily be protected. Not every arrangement will be cost-free. Many people have said that uncertainty is bad for business. Yet there was always going to be uncertainty during the negotiating period (and probably beyond, as the devil is in the detail). M Barnier has rightly said several times that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Anything else would tie negotiators’ hands too much. However, it means we will have to live with uncertainty right until … whenever everything is certain.
If you want to go through any or all aspects of the impact Brexit might have on your business. Let me know.