We can, though, point to positive developments that gainsay earlier doom-mongering as they happen. Nissan, in a widely reported warning ahead of the referendum, threatened to quit the UK if we voted for Brexit. Yet the Japanese car giant, the owner of the UK’s largest car plant in Sunderland, just committed to even more investment. We shouldn’t be surprised – the company said it would leave the UK if we didn’t join the euro. Making threats, and extracting concessions from governments, is what big carmakers do.
Last week also saw a telling volte-face from Roberto Azevado, the head of the World Trade Organization. Before the referendum, Azevado was reported as saying the UK, outside the EU, would face “tortuous” negotiations to re-enter the WTO, while incurring “billions in annual costs”. Last week, the same man, the world’s most important trade diplomat, admitted leaving the EU “was not anti-trade” and that Brexit could be “relatively straightforward” and “smooth”.
I have never denied, even during the nastiest moments of this summer’s referendum campaign, that the Brexit process will cause some business uncertainty. While these latest growth numbers are good, there will clearly be investment put on hold, and related future job creation thwarted, until there’s more clarity on when and how we’ll be leaving.
I’d counter, though, that remaining in the EU – with its massive instability, impending banking union and powder-keg currency – is also a source of huge uncertainty, potentially greater than that related to Brexit.
I’d also say that the best way to minimise inevitable Brexit-related business uncertainty is to invoke Article 50 relatively quickly, as the Prime Minister has said, do a “grand repeal” of all EU law relating to the UK onto British statute and, after the two-year Article 50 window, revert to WTO rules. Not “hard-Brexit”, but “clean-Brexit”. Fast, clear – and, above all, democratic.
That’s the best way to encourage UK growth, trade with the rest of Europe and the world and, ultimately, long-term peace and prosperity. While these early signs of post-referendum growth are encouraging, they are only a start.