Last Wednesday, we closed the Derby Property Summit with the classic Clash track, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’?
Twenty-four hours later, the country decided to go, voting by a narrow margin to leave the EU.
Historians are already debating the importance of this event, comparing it to the Suez Crisis of 1956, right back to Henry VIII’s 16th century tussles with Europe.
Events are changing quickly but, as I write, there is a still a sense of disbelief (on all sides) tempered by growing recognition that actions have consequences.
I asked a couple who had voted to leave if they could give me the correct name of the country they had voted to leave the EU - United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – but they were totally unable to do so.
I only say this to illustrate a point that I made in this column in March, that the referendum decision would be based largely on emotion, as opposed to cold logic.
People may clamor for facts but, in the end, the vote was a simple act of faith.
We are where we are – and that is in unchartered territory, which we now need to navigate carefully (with a new captain due in the autumn) for the good of our economy and communities, as well as bearing some responsibility towards our European and global partners.
Since the vote, I’ve been asked repeatedly to comment on the impact of Brexit on inward investment.
Truth is, there is no simple answer.
I’d like to put aside the (hopefully) short-term fluctuations in stocks and in Sterling, as uncertainty will always fuel speculation. No doubt someone made a nice packet last Thursday night.
The crucial question is how do we prevent the current turbulence, or inertia, from becoming a medium - or even long-term, event?
Of course we have been here before.
In 2008, the collapse of Lehman Brothers led to catastrophic events and a consequent recession.
If you remember, the debate then was very much questioning what ‘shape’ the recession would take – ‘V-shape’ for quick recovery and ‘U-shape’ for a longer flat recovery.
In truth, we’re not long recovered and the trick now will be to avoid a blip becoming a dip and then that morphing into a full-blown recession.
Be under no illusion a recession would be a disaster for Derby, as the city has only recently started to be seen as a viable inward investment prospect, attracting £3bn over the last decade.
My early conversation with investors is mainly one of them being taken by surprise and not wanting to say too much until the confusion clears. However, none seem to be pretending it’s business as usual.
The 10% collapse of a currency, $2trillion global shock in shares, resignation of a Prime Minister and potential unraveling of the UK and EU did not a normal Friday make.
At the Derby Property Summit our keynote speaker, Courtney Fingar, Editor-in-Chief of the Financial Times fDi magazine, outlined the risks of Brexit on international investment flows.
Her figures showed that the UK is a leader in this field, second only to the US, but that 60% of that investment is related to the UK being part of the single market. To retain this position the negotiated trade deal must maintain this access.
Locally, Bombardier, Rolls-Royce and Toyota have all issued very welcome and calming statements, hoping to help avoid turning a drama into a crisis.
Derby’s economy does trade globally so it is absolutely critical that effective trade deals with the EU and beyond are negotiated in good time and not just for the benefit of the big corporates, but also for the many SMEs in their direct and indirect supply chains.
The UK has decided to leave the EU and, as the East Midlands Chamber has said, government must now articulate its vision and define a credible roadmap for success outside the EU.
The country is split down the middle, the referendum is clear on what we are leaving, but not where we are going, and it may take a General Election to define this.
However, the longer the hiatus, the greater the hurt.
Finally, a major investment concern is the signal, now perceived by many internationally, that the UK has become an inward-looking and introspective small-island nation. We cannot become the Millwall (no-one likes us, we don’t care) of nations. There is no future in the globalised 21st century in a country closed for business.
Government and business need to be reaching out pro-actively, getting on planes to reassure customers and markets that a Brexit Britain remains a liberal, open, tolerant democracy, welcoming talent (immigrants) and investment from across the world.
Back in 2008, the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ motif from the World War became popular on posters, tea-towels and mugs.
It’s time to dust them off and capture that spirit.