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A million questions, not one answer

Success is relative. It is what we make of the mess we have made of things.

There’s a school of thought that recessions come in ten-year cycles. Which, even with my Grade B O Level maths, I reckon makes us a year late in starting this next one.

New orders fall at fastest pace for over ten years in August: the headline from yesterday’s IHS MARKIT Construction PMI report screams out at you like a page-bound banshee. As does the killer last line: “It’s likely September’s data will be even more discouraging.”

It’s the fourth month in a row that activity has fallen, August was at a steeper rate even than July and it’s commercial work that’s suffering the most. The monthly survey reports respondents citing “delayed decision-making among clients in response to domestic political uncertainty.”

Domestic political uncertainty. If we were watching the Understatement Olympics, that would win the gold medal.  Yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons made for compelling, uncomfortable, at times horrifying, at times uplifting (Ken Clarke – not for nothing is he oft referred to as the best Prime Minister we never had) viewing.

Johnson sat there looking increasingly like the lippy sales rep who, having talked his way into his former boss’ job, realises that, actually, it’s not as easy as he thought it would be because none of his former, equally lippy, sales rep colleagues will do as he tells them to.

Jacob Rees-Mogg lolled on the front benches, looking like he’d just had a hard afternoon on horseback, chasing down peasants on his country estate, rolling his eyes skyward whenever any of the proles before him dared to disagree with him.

Way back in April, when the EU granted Teresa May a six month delay on the implementation of our actual exit, Jean-Claude Junker warned her ‘don’t waste these six months’. That, alas, seems to be exactly what has happened.

In 2016, we had a referendum and the result was that more people voted to leave the EU than voted to stay. Not many more, it’s true, but more. The result of that has to stand or what the hell is the point of politics? The underlying problem was always, however, that no country had ever negotiated to leave the EU before, so there was no-one on either side who knew what the heck to do about it or how it would pan out. We had a deal – Teresa May’s deal. Was it really so bad? Brexit Party MEP Alex Phillips told the BBC yesterday that it was ‘a truly terrible deal’. Really? Was it really that bad? Like it or not, the question of the Irish Border is going to be the key to getting us through this mess. A hard border with checks is against the Good Friday Agreement. Does anyone want to go back to the days before then?

Will we get a general election? Who knows? It doesn’t look like I have an MP to vote for any more, since Greg Clark is one of the 21 Rebel Alliance members to have had the whip removed.

A small business near me has spent the last 20 years selling to hundreds of customers in Europe. Alas, none of his customers have yet filled out the required paperwork to register as importers. So, without a proper deal, on 31st October that business is likely to close. This shambles is costing jobs and livelihoods and will continue to do so. Parliament – and the EU as well – are playing chicken with people’s futures. Uncertainty is the enemy of solid business building. How come Parliament seems to be forgetting that?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Editor-in-Chief across the BMJ portfolio.

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