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Strat Fest 2018: John Peet, Political & Brexit Editor for The Economist.

John Peet, Political & Brexit Editor for The Economist.

“Regarding Brexit, leaving with no deal is not a plausible outcome, but I think it would be foolish not to have a contingency plan, just in case.” 

John gave us a whistle-stop tour of the Brexit situation and his personal thoughts on the situation. Linking from disruptors and innovation, he made the point that government perhaps above all other things could do with a healthy dose of disruption. Working from the central assumption that there will be a Brexit deal, he predicted that it would A) be done later than anyone expects and B) leaving without a deal is simply not plausible.

However, his key warning to the UK and business world at large was that it would be foolish not to have a contingency plan. This point carried a thread of continuity from Sir John Grant’s 2017 Strat Fest talk on the Brexit situation; namely that It will not be over in March 2019, rather just beginning as Brexit is a process and not an event. Crucially also, by far the worst feature of all the conversation around Brexit is that it diverts attention away from the real problems. 

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Politics and Brexit – my god we could use some AI to fix that – nothings changed since the 60s in parliament! The rousing opener from John that set the tone for the rest of his speech!

John went on from here to bewail the archaic language still used to this day in parliament and how incredibly out of touch it was compared to the topics discussed during the rest of the evening. Language referring to Boudicea, talk of going down fighting a la Churchill.

John then made the resigned point on Brexit that “we are where we are, but I’ve still got to talk about it”!

We are apparently closer to a Brexit deal than we might think. The problem now is not Brussels, France, Germany or even Theresa May. The problem lies squarely in the mechanism of Parliament as there is clearly no majority.

Everything is getting broader and not narrower as it should be! A sort of perpetual doom loop has formed. Now Europe sees in May someone who is simply going to be turned down by her own parliament. John at this point interjected that comments in the English press do not go unnoticed in Europe and the constant stalemate of tooing and froing in parliament are not happening in a vacuum – Europe is definitely watching.

John had two predictions namely:

  • The deal would be done later than anyone expects – this could even be in January which is cutting it very fine.
  • Leaving without any deal is simply not plausible

He told us we should work from the central assumption that there will be a deal, but parliament is likely to try and turn it down. This he thinks could lead to all sorts of different things that are hard to predict.

The problem now is that no one really likes politics anymore, but what we are interested in very keenly is the commercial impact of said boring politics!

So in John’s opinion, we should rationally be planning for a no deal Brexit in the hope it doesn’t get there. So we should think about Ireland’s border, the M20, impact on airlines etc.

Either way, it won’t be over in March and that he was confident of. Brexit is a process, not an event – as a result, he himself has safely got a job for the next decade!

The real problem is that it has become the dominant issue for the British government, but Brexit in and of itself won’t solve anything and diverts everything from everything else which in and of itself is deeply worrying.