Having worked in SMEs for all but 4 years of my career (when I was FD of quoted companies) I’ve never had to negotiate in the full glare of publicity, as the Government does. But I’m pleased to see that Mrs May and her colleagues have resisted the temptation to reveal their hand, either to lead the news agenda as Alastair Campbell demanded, or to assuage the need for certainty and its implied safety which Maslow identified as one of our greatest needs.
Dealing with uncertainty is, I believe, an essential attribute of leadership so it’s re-assuring to see that we are not rushing headlong into invoking Article 50. Like Andrew Tyrie I think that we should start with the end in mind, and see when negotiations can be concluded and then work back from that rather than rush into acting. All that that would produce is a deadline for removing this particular uncertainty faster. It wouldn’t produce a better result. As they say in finance, when asking for a loan or investment “If you want a quick answer it’s no”. Agreements to lend or invest come from understanding how the organisation works, which is a product of communicating sufficient information and ensuring that it is correctly received. Given the scale of the task this will take some time.
What I think would help is an interim framework, like heads of terms in business deals. It could say something like this:
“Nothing will change until a new arrangement is in place. Our new arrangement will recognise that the principles of free trade and free movement of people are beneficial to us all except where competition is unfair or migration exceeds levels that can be absorbed by the receiving country.”
I realise that this is not complete but I wonder why people would refuse to sign up to it?
There will be some tough negotiations for sure. We may need to stand firm for a while. In every negotiation there is a moment, sometimes several, when nothing is said while each party decides how much it can put up with. And when the other party says “take this because the alternative will be worse” then the time to pause lengthens. The pause may be some months. But I think that our ability to tough it out, and deal with this uncertainty will improve our ever uncertain future. At the moment the doom-mongers are being proved wrong -our stock market goes up, our exports grow and our interest rates reduce the strain on government spending and it is others such as France and Germany, who face elections, who have more negative influences to contend with. But even if it wasn’t looking pretty good, good leadership should work in this direction - helping us to deal with our need for safety, maybe by distracting us with announcements about schools and the Boundary Commission and even a bit of retail therapy. I’m just not sure that I would suit a pair of those kitten heels.
By Malcolm Durham, chairman, Flexible Directors