Greg Wright: The high stakes Brexit gamble has real-world consequences

FEELING a little shaken by current events?

Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Dear readers, we might have a sounder perspective on our chaotic times if we all played darts while riding a unicycle.

Not my suggestion, but that of Laith Khalaf a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, who provided some sage advice to investors who may be feeling rattled by political upheavals. There comes a point, he said, when yet more bad Brexit news is water off a duck’s back.

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“While Brexit is clearly a big issue for the stock market, there are other issues at play too, and signs of appeasement in US-China trade relations are serving to underpin sentiment across international markets,’’ he said.

“Indeed, this morning, the share prices of companies the market has pinned to the Brexit mast have unexpectedly risen, including names like Lloyds and RBS - although they are still in the red across the last week as a whole.

“This goes to show that trying to forecast market movements based on the outcome of unpredictable political events is a bit like trying to play darts while riding a unicycle.”

Since the vote in favour of Brexit, business leaders have been demanding strong political leadership and statesman-like behaviour. Our political class has failed them abysmally. It may be the pantomime season in the House of Commons, but in the real world, businesses are worried that our economy and global credibility is about to fall off a cliff.

The most balanced and sensible comments about Brexit have come from leaders on the coal-face of commercial life. They speak up for firms who are worried about the chaos a no-deal Brexit would bring. They are tired of the petty point-scoring at the top of national politics. They just want clarity, so they can plan ahead.

There has been a real sharpness of tone in recent statements from business leaders. Here for example, is Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI Director-General, responding to the announcement that the meaningful vote over Brexit has been delayed: “This is yet another blow for companies desperate for clarity. Investment plans have been paused for two and a half years. Unless a deal is agreed quickly, the country risks sliding towards a national crisis.

“Politicians on both sides of the Channel need to show leadership, by building consensus to protect both the UK and EU’s prosperity.

“No one can afford to head into Christmas with the threat of no-deal costing jobs and hitting living standards.”

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses are watching events at Westminster with “utter dismay”. He said: “At one of the most pivotal moments for the UK economy in decades, it is unacceptable that Westminster politicians have chosen to focus on themselves, rather than on the needs of the country.

“Our firms are worried, investors around the world are baffled and disappointed, and markets are showing serious strain as this political saga goes on and on. History will not be kind to those who prioritise political advantage over people’s livelihoods.

“Businesses need politicians, regardless of party or views on Brexit, to understand that their high-stakes gambles have real-world consequences of the highest order.”

The House of Commons is not a monastic debating society. The choices MPs make could cost people their jobs and lead to rising prices; at a time when a scandalously large number of people are relying on food banks. Amid the sound and fury, nobody in top level politics is putting the country first.

We are witnessing a breakdown in the relationship of trust between politicians and the business community. It could take decades to re-build this relationship.

The squabbling and posturing of the last few weeks has confirmed all our worst fears about the political elite.

The big issues facing the nation, such as our terrible skills deficit, climate change and our woeful public transport system, are not being confronted because the Government is paralysed by Brexit. The real price will be paid by generations still to be born.