Is that all there is? No matter your view on Brexit, this week feels anti-climactic in the UK. Nearly half a century of continental co-operation will end at precisely 23.00 on Friday – the sort of time that passes without you even realising it. Big Ben isn’t going to bong but the country will be bequeathed 10 million 50p coins (why not pounds?) engraved with the stomach-turningly empty phrase: “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.”
Fine. Even for remain voters (such as myself) irked by such posturing, it’s time to move on. As we pointed out in yesterday’s Monocle Minute, Brexit is not “done”. The real negotiations that will shape the UK’s economy for decades will take place over the next few months. The current plan is to finalise a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU by the end of the year – wishful thinking by anyone’s standards. No matter how good it might seem for UK businesses, any divergence from our current alignment with EU rules is going to cause problems with our biggest trading partner (the bloc accounts for about half of all exports and imports).
Much has been made of the opportunities that all of this could open up with the US and other countries but nearly two thirds of companies in the UK say that the EU deal is “more important” to their business, according to a survey by the respected Institute of Directors. The clothing and textiles, automotive, pharmaceutical and finance sectors are particularly vulnerable. With New York going strong and Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai on the rise, only 22 per cent of financial firms see London as the major hub for their industry in five years’ time, according to another recent survey. Thousands of businesses are depending on this next stage of Brexit to be completed thoughtfully and thoroughly – let’s hope they get what they deserve.