Brexit has been the best and worst of times. The best, because we needed to examine our relationship with a centralising, bureaucratic EU. The worst, because that debate has polarised opinion so sharply.
The Prime Minister’s deal can be seen as a glass half-full or half-empty.
There are good points for Brexiteers around borders, immigration and budget contributions, while for Remainers we retain strong links with Europe and have an orderly exit.
A deal was never going to be ideal for anyone and was always going to be a compromise.
As in any debate between strongly opposed views, facts, forecasts and anecdotes have been dragooned into supporting different arguments, or simply ignored; more noise than signal, more heat than light.
Nigel Wilson (pictured above) has said Brexit has been the best and worst of times
This is particularly true in the London ‘bubble’. Leaders in our other great cities: Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, Cardiff, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow — to name just some where we are investing and which I visit regularly — want only to deliver what is right for their people.
Legal & General will be fine almost whatever the Brexit outcome; we have survived world wars and a diet of boom and bust for 182 years.
We invest hundreds of billions in the UK — but that money belongs, ultimately, to our customers who are planning for retirement or looking after their family finances.
Now, in yet another ‘crunch week’, we see our economy and our customers suffering the onset of Brexit fatigue.
The real regret is that the political frenzy around Brexit has prevented so many important things from being done.
Europe has been a disruptive distraction for Tory governments for 30 years.
We have allowed our productivity to fall to 30 per cent behind the French and Germans, watched great British technologies move offshore, and seen real wage growth stagnate.
We have systemically under-invested in our infrastructure, housing, transport, clean energy and education.
Our entrepreneurs and start-ups have been starved of the patient capital they need to grow businesses, which would move us from a low-skill, low-pay economy to one where we have the skills and resources to earn appropriate rewards.
Focusing almost exclusively on Brexit for the past two years has resulted in political austerity.
We want politicians to talk about, and crucially act on, issues such as housing, health (including mental health), education, skills and crime. We face significant challenges in security, foreign policy and defence.
The Prime Minister’s (pictured) deal can be seen as a glass half-full or half-empty, according to Nigel Wilson
A minority still argues that all these issues could be resolved by crashing out in a hard Brexit.
The result may not be quite as catastrophic as has been suggested; at L&G we never agreed that an instant recession would follow the referendum.
But in a no-deal exit, the UK would not find it easy or quick to re-enter global trade flows — with Asia, the U.S. and Europe — in ways that work to our advantage.
Then again, there are those who want the referendum re-run. They hope either for a different result or for the Prime Minister to be humiliated.
But even preparing for a second vote would take months and result in greater bitterness and division than any seen so far.
The same is true of the ‘Plan B’s’ which mainly deliver similar, but as yet un-negotiated, outcomes to the one Theresa May has championed.
These are not realistic solutions. The deadline looms, and it is time for hard-line Brexiteers and Remainers to stop being so self-indulgent.
The Prime Minister and Michael Gove, not close before the vote, have demonstrated resilience and compromised to become ‘doers’ and push the Brexit deal through.
Nigel Wilson has said that Michael Gove (above) has demonstrated resilience
We each have our list of issues, in politics and life, where compromise is unthinkable. But Brexit, which is partly about the terms of trade with Europe, partly about the pooling of sovereignty, is not at the top of that list for most of us.
The problem is, when we stop thinking about issues, and get wrapped up in identities, we become Brexiteers or Remainers just as people became Mods or Rockers. We all have views, but mostly, we get stuff done in a far-from-perfect world.
Westminster is an extreme case of this. The ideologues, careerists and resigners — the Johnson brothers, Dominic Raab, David Davis, Esther McVey, Sam Gyimah — need to remember that politics is the art of the possible. It is also in the national interest for the Opposition to put the common good above party politics.
According to Nigel Wilson, MPs such as Dominic Raab need to remember that politics is the art of possible
It is time for us all to get behind the Prime Minister and get her deal over the line. Then our political and business class can address the big domestic tasks that our society needs to resolve.
Technology, demography, productivity, health and the rise of China matter more to our long-term economic wellbeing than the terms of trade with Europe.
Theresa May’s Brexit deal results in us remaining closely linked with Europe, but at the same time enables us to take back control of migration and trade in an organised way.
Our economy may grow less than we hope in the short term, but could grow more in the long term as we have greater opportunity to self-determine our success.
Brexit has been a distraction during which too many UK businesses stood still while their competitors did not.
The world has never been so competitive or so fast-moving. But the UK is still a great place to invest, with opportunities in areas such as life sciences, finance, ageing, health and more.
Business needs to support the Prime Minister, stop unproductive rhetoric and get on with productive investment.
- Nigel Wilson is group chief executive of Legal & General. L&G manages nearly £1 trillion of assets on behalf of pension savers and investors.