Unique Research - Brexit from the Inside
Brexit has been one of those key terms throughout the world since 2016. Now that it has gone from theoretical to practical, we felt it worth exploring the potential implications. But instead of the American view from afar, a true insider’s viewpoint would be more instructive.
Thankfully, we have just the individual to consult. The NS Capital Investment Committee was fortunate to meet Jon Walker, Chartered Wealth Manager at Investec Wealth & Investment Limited (UK), in 2019 and have built a trusted partnership. We are most grateful for his “on the ground” perspectives of this significant global event. Speaking in a personal capacity, Jon gave a sense of how Brexit unfolded in real time - below are key highlights from his conversation with Todd Peters, Chair of our Investment Committee, on February 1st.
How has Brexit felt to British citizens since the 2016 vote?
Brexit’s impact began prior to the vote. Initially, it felt like Prime Minister Cameron was trying to appease a small subset of the Conservative Party by proposing the exit referendum. Few thought it would pass. Many powerful individuals and British icons were promoting that Britain should remain in the European Union (EU). But in the late innings, momentum started to trend toward exiting. Boris Johnson got on board and a (since disproved) marketing campaign stating that the UK was sending £350 million pounds per week to the EU caught attention. This fed into the frenzy that something was not right. Then it became the only thing people would talk about. A truly divisive moment.
Since the vote it did not leave the news cycle. Every news outlet carried it. BBC News at 10 (a British institution) had nightly discussions. Sky News (owned by Rupert Murdoch) had a “Brexit Crisis” banner at the bottom of every newscast. Constantly in your face. It felt like living through a messy divorce with a large part of the voting populace (“The Centrists”) feeling left out. The far edges of the movement seemed to control the narrative. It was impossible to have a reasonable debate. By the end of 2020, everyone was just hoping to be done with it.
What then was the reaction to the December 24th agreement between the UK and EU?
Relief! There was no celebrating. No victory for either side. In fact, the main EU negotiator stated it was a sad day. The citizens just did not want to hear about it anymore. It was so protracted (over four years) that a lot of people gave up.
How has the first month been?
It is still a part of the news cycle, but it is toned down. Less debating and visceral reaction. More discussion on trade agreements and company relocations.
Regarding everyday life, it is still hard to see all the impacts. It will take time. But will likely be many little things that have been taken for granted. For instance, credit/debit card charges between the UK and EU may go up and roaming charges on mobile data plans will go up as UK travelers will now pay EU service charges. And now citizens must spend at least 9 months per year in the UK. This will impact those that have vacation properties…say in southern Spain…where prior to exit they could spend unlimited time.
What about the initial impact on British businesses?
We just do not know yet. It is too early to tell. British negotiators were able to achieve “zero tariff, zero quota” goods trade with its main trading partner and avoids any role for the European Court of Justice in settling trade disputes. On fisheries, the EU agreed to give up 25 percent of its existing quotas in UK waters over a period of five and a half years. These are obviously good things for the UK.
The government is going to actively pursue trade deals with the various regions of the world, such as the Asia-Pacific Bloc. But we cannot forget that 50% of the UK’s customers are European. Today, we are seeing some UK companies trying to move operations to Europe to reduce friction. Belgium, Austria, and the Netherlands have received many inquiries from UK companies. We likely will not know for ten years if this is good or bad. Only time will tell.
Where do see opportunities for the UK post exit?
I would say tourism. Citizens may shun overseas travel to remain close to home. Covid-19 has introduced this concept of the “staycation” and country pride may continue this in the post-exit era. There is no excuse to not invest in the UK. Capital will stay in the country and can be diverted to infrastructure. Britain needs to focus on digitalization, roads, and hospitals. This could be a significant boost to the overall economy. Lastly, I would like to see more inward investments to small companies that serve UK citizens. Now is the time to support the local businessperson.
The Brexit debate is not going away anytime soon. It was a such a big event in the life a British citizen. The issue has been so divisive. The vote was so close. You have 48% of the British voting population that got something they did not want. An interesting analysis following the 2016 vote showed that individuals 60 years of age and older primarily voted to leave the EU. While individuals 25 years old and younger overwhelming voted to stay in the EU. A generational divide. So, it will be interesting to see what happens in the future. In ten years, the UK leadership may want to go in a different direction…even possibly asking to rejoin the EU. Again, only time will tell.