June 23 is a date many of us have lodged in our minds. Whatever your views on the EU Referendum, it’s a subject you can barely escape in the media at the moment… and for good reason. The outcome either way will have a huge impact on the future of the UK, and businesses in particular are clamouring to have their say before the British public decides its fate.
However, the issue is surrounded by confusion. And the information available from both the Vote Remain and Vote Leave sides often does not answer the most burning questions. Professor Dieter Helm, an economist who specialises in fields such as utilities, infrastructure and regulation, recently wrote about what the country could look like on June 24 when the results are in.
If we vote to remain in the EU, he says: “We would know that the internal market remains open to us, and we would not have to renegotiate our trading arrangements - they would be the same as they were on June 22.
“All the directives that govern our trade, state aids, the internal energy market and competition policy, and contextualise our regulation of utilities, finance and the environment would be exactly the same. Not much of this is ideal, and some of it is at best very inefficient, but at least we would know where we stand.”
And his view on a Vote Leave outcome (aside from the potential for a Conservative party ‘civil war’) is: “Whereas it is pretty straightforward to predict what ‘remain’ would look like (the situation on June 22), Vote Leave cannot provide a blueprint for what ‘leave’ actually looks like.
“There are two reasons for this. The first is fundamental - Britain leaving the EU cannot be defined without including all the details about what the world would look like after so many other things change, many of which are outside its control. Change implies things will be different, but ‘different’ is not open to precise definition.
“That is why both sides’ arguments about the economic post-exit world are, at best, scenarios. Detailed modelling and statements about the ‘facts’ are not going to shed much light, for the very good reason that there are no facts on the leave side. There can’t be. They are all conjectures.”
This is a view shared by Rob Aird, a partner at law firm Ashurst. The firm recently published a document on Brexit, considering how a withdrawal process might work and what the possible models for an ongoing European relationship might look like.
“It is not clear what withdrawal from the EU will actually mean in practice for business,” he says.
“What is clear is that the uncertainty as to what a post-Brexit world will look like means that assessment of risk and forward planning for businesses is very challenging.
“Worryingly, it appears that voters will not be given a full picture of the implications for the UK outside the EU when they go to the polls in June. The UK public could vote to leave the EU without truly understanding the long-term implications of that decision on the economic and political landscape of the UK.”
Helm highlights another area of uncertainty that would affect many industries, including rail specifically, if the nation votes to leave the EU.
“If we leave, then the directives all fall away. There will be a host of areas where there will need to be UK laws to replace those that have dropped away.
“This is no minor issue. After June 24, Parliament will have to start a marathon legislative programme. It will need to reconstruct agricultural policy, fisheries policies, telecoms policies, state aids policies, renewables policy, and almost all environmental policy.
It will need new financial legislation. None of these are easy or straightforward, again in part because few on the leave side agree what should be put in their place.”
Of course, there is always a possibility that the final result will not be dissimilar from the polls of late, and that it could be what Helm refers to as a “close call”, providing no ‘winner’ to take the relationship with Europe forward.
The decision we make as a nation on June 23 is one that could fundamentally change the landscape for the rail industry. Whatever the outcome, political fallout could have farreaching consequences.
- We'll be posting more on the EU Referendum in the next couple of days so keep checking back to find out more.