Waking up on the 24 June on the other side of the Atlantic to the outcome of the UK EU Referendum vote, I want to share some personal views on what next...
For me the campaigns conducted by both sides emphasise why we elect our government to take the really big decisions on our behalf. It was always going to be a campaign where rational and emotional elements would conflict, and indeed pose, whether deliberately or not, as each other – and so it proved. But as the saying goes, we are where we are and my focus is now firmly on the what next.
All our political parties need to show real leadership in re-establishing unity within their ranks. We desperately need both effective Government and an effective Opposition to navigate the UK through the next stage of its journey as we move to legally divorce ourselves from the EU.
This legal process of separation will not be quick, two years at least, giving time for effective and measured preparation and much will not change even then. We may well experience some short term market bumps, as in the run-up to the vote. But with strong hands on the tiller in Westminster, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, short term is a reasonable expectation.
The whole country needs its politicians to demonstrate generosity towards those who campaigned on the losing side, with equal magnanimity from those whose arguments did not prevail. This responsibility also extends to all of those who campaigned passionately on whichever side. The decision is made and we all need to get on with it.
The BSA’s members were very clear at the beginning of the campaign that we should remain neutral as a sector, that the Referendum decision was one for individual citizens, and that as wholly UK-focused businesses, we did not have a position to take in terms of European trade.
We do have a position to take now in the aftermath of the vote. We have the same interest as everyone in seeing the UK economy thrive and grow. We want to see continued and substantial investment in housing. We want a banking and financial services sector that is strong and thus able to focus on the needs of society, supporting both businesses and households. All of this requires stability and certainty and, to go full circle, that stems not least from our political leaders. This is where the tone is set and the policy made.
For our sector and financial services more generally it is business as usual. People need homes and mortgages are available; we all still want to save, whether for a rainy day or for things that matter to us. Savings are safe and all the machinery of retail financial services works just as it did before.
We are now embarking on a bit of an adventure and the coming months and years will require fence-mending, trust building and reputational repair for the UK to maintain its standing on the world stage. As a small island trading nation we have much to lose – but much to gain too.