Ann Francke: Brexit exposes flaws of partisan politics

Posted On: 
21st January 2019

Whilst every business should plan for the worst, I do not think a no-deal Brexit will come to pass, says Ann Francke, CEO, CMI.

After an awful lot of heat and no light, last week’s events in Parliament produced… nothing. The only certainty remains uncertainty. There is no consensus around a deal and politicians seem as far apart as ever. Businesses up and down the country will be worried that we’re heading for a no-deal cliff edge.

Even before the “meaningful vote”, a CMI survey of nearly 950 managers based in the UK found that nearly three quarters of respondents said their businesses have been impacted by Brexit, and nearly half said they were pessimistic or very pessimistic about the UK economy for 2019. The looming threat of a no-deal Brexit will only further compound these worries.

The CMI survey also found that more than a third of managers feel they are either ill-prepared for Brexit or not prepared at all, with over half reporting they have had no involvement in Brexit planning at all. For businesses not to be engaging their managers to future-proof their organisations strikes me as foolish. That’s why CMI has been encouraging our members to undertake three actions right now: understand and highlight points of potential disruption in their value chains; support any EU workers through the period of uncertainty; and address any skills gap your team may have - particularly change management!

However, whilst every business should plan for the worst, I do not think a no-deal Brexit will come to pass. There isn’t a majority in the Commons for a no-deal Brexit. It is true that no-deal remains the default position at the moment which MPs would have to actively avoid, but I have quiet confidence that a solution will be found - although not by one party acting alone.

Green shoots of collaboration are growing out of the ashes of the Prime Minister’s deal. She has spoken of working with senior parliamentarians across the House to find out what deal Parliament will support, although it has yet to be seen whether this dialogue will lead to actual change. This cooperation is long overdue - no modern management practice suggests a bunker mentality and a ramrod will produce results. Given that legislation is passed by a majority vote, it seems painfully obvious that the Government should have sought to take as many MPs with it, regardless of party. Indeed, two years ago I called on Government to adopt a cross-party approach to deliver Brexit. Better late than never!

The CMI exists to promote good management and great leadership, and I fear we will need to look to the next generation of managers and leaders to pick up the pieces. The style of leadership exhibited by most of our political class in recent months belongs to the 20th not 21st century; modern leadership is inclusive and collaborative and engaging. Not exclusive or divisive or autocratic. You look at the deadlock the UK Parliament finds itself in, you look at the US Government shutdown; across the world partisan politics is failing its constituents. Politicians are playing from politically-entrenched positions with the livelihoods and wellbeing of their voters, and losing. I predict you will see a reaction to this in terms of the candidates and the voting booths- indeed the US mid-term results headed in this direction.

What do I want to see in place of this backwards style of politics? On the day of the vote, CMI was in Parliament celebrating the third anniversary of the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA) - the UK’s most popular degree apprenticeship. The creation of degree apprenticeships is a great example of organisations with disparate views, whether they be political parties, education providers or employers, working together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. And they are delivering results: improving skills, promoting diversity and widening social mobility. In the case of the CMDA, it is boosting productivity and delivering future leaders who are equipped and empowered to cope with whatever cards may be dealt by Brexit.

Those with competing opinions and contributions have all benefited from building something positive together, rather than tearing each other down. That’s real leadership.  

Makes you think: is the party over for party politics?