It’s been a mad, mad, mad, mad world trying to keep up to speed on all things Brexit.
Far from being a fantastic voyage, it feels more like we have been cast away on a mysterious island with a motley group of the usual suspects.
Even before the referendum itself, there was arguably never a clear picture of what was being voted for – it couldn’t be a simply case of “in” or “out” given the complexity of our relationship with the EU, no matter what some might have claimed.
Fast forward three years and we have reached the end of days as regards Brexit.
But are we any close to knowing exactly what the future holds for us?
Can we even handle the truth?
Would it better if we in fact went back to the future and held another referendum?
Do we need more from our Prime Minister than the sort of posturing seen in Zoolander?
The empire strikes back
When Boris Johnson replaced Theresa May as Prime Minister it signalled a new hope for many. But as soon as it became clear the EU was not simply going to roll over and agree to all of the PM’s demands, many of his supporters began to complain that it was unfair and unjust that the empire strikes back in such a manner.
As the October 17 summit deadline loomed large a deal was finally agreed, although many pointed to the startling similarities with Theresa May’s rejected deal (with a few significant changes that few seemed to find palatable, particularly in Northern Ireland) and Mr Johnson’s breakthrough was dismissed by many as a second-rate replica, an attack of the clones if you will that everyone had supposedly been trying to avoid.
As the politicians congratulated each other, or decried yet another wasted opportunity, the business world continued to largely scratch their heads and wonder if this never ending story would ever reach a satisfactory conclusion, or whether we would continually to be trapped in the confusing labyrinth that has evolved in the last three years.
Tom Hall, Chief Economist at AMA Research commented: “As the deal agreed between the EU and the UK in principle winds its way through the remaining legislative and parliamentary hurdles, the detail remains vague at this stage. It should become clearer as details of the agreement emerge over the next few days. It remains relevant, however, to understand and assess the different possible scenarios and the likely impacts on companies in the construction and manufacturing sectors.”
Others were ready to offer their congratulations to negotiators on both sides that an agreement had been reached, although their support for the deal itself was not so warm and welcoming.
Rather than be quick to celebrate or regard this as our independence day, many industry leaders were cautious.
But the fact we woke again on Monday morning with no clear idea of the road ahead was enough to give some tremors.
Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “While the parliamentary drama continues, in the real world businesses wait anxiously for a clear outcome.
“In the coming days the onus is on the government to answer the many questions businesses are posing on the Prime Minister’s deal – and its potential impact on trade, investment, communities and jobs.
“At such a critical moment in the process, the government must give business an iron-clad guarantee that it will not seek to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on 31st October. Getting a Brexit deal is far more important than simply getting it done.
“Allowing the UK to slide toward a Halloween no-deal – whether by design or disarray – would be an act of economic and political negligence. As frustrating as it would be to many in business, a short extension to unlock a comprehensive solution and a smooth transition is still infinitely preferable to an overnight economic shock.”
The day after tomorrow
The manufacturers’ bodies are also urging greater clarity. They point out that we cannot even predict what will happen the day after tomorrow, let alone 28 days later. They do agree that the last three years of inactivity will continue to have a deep impact on industry for many years to come and could even spell oblivion for some.
After releasing new research showing over 60% of manufacturers had seen profits slump as a direct result of Brexit uncertainty, Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive at Make UK, said business needs clarity and stability going forward, but that does not mean leaving the EU at any cost.
“No deal would leave manufacturing facing tariffs on the import of goods and just in time delivery logistics would become inoperable,” he added. “Furthermore, business would be unable to access the people to ensure British companies can fill vacancies where they have skills gaps or, send workers to the EU for service contracts and other commercial opportunities.
“We must also see a commitment to maintain mutually recognised, close regulatory alignment with the EU, supported by a system of arbitration and standard setting to ensure that British firms can produce goods that can easily be traded across Europe with clear protections in place.
“We have already seen major companies voting with their feet and taking their planned business operations away from the UK while many businesses are losing out on new contracts with EU customers because of the uncertain future trading arrangements. This is only going to get worse until a deal with a sensible transition period is agreed.”
So, is the new deal worth the paper it is written on? Is it simply a classic case of the emperor’s new clothes? Do we need more from our Prime Minister than the sort of posturing and posing that would not look out of place on the set of Zoolander?
After three years of uncertainty and another prolonged period of the same ahead of us, it is hard to be one of the optimists.
Indeed, it feels like groundhog day. Yet again we allow the dust to settle on a Commons defeat for the Prime Minister and look for some clarity and leadership.
With October 31 now literally days away, the Brexit reality still largely unclear and the implementation of any sort of agreement still uncertain, I can’t help but look back at the deal Boris secured and be reminded of Donnie Brasco on inspecting a supposed diamond: “Forget about it. It’s a fugazi."