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“Britain in 2030: four post-Brexit scenarios”: conclusions and questions

November 1, 2017

Our publication of “Britain in 2030: four post-Brexit scenarios” came as the UK was well into its negotiations with the UK about the shape of the terms of disengagement. The Brexit process remains in as much flux today as it has done since its beginning. Two entirely different negotiating tactics, the Europeans approaching with clearly laid out, published and agreed positions shared amongst the 27 member states, and the UK with a more flexible yet secretive approach, have often led to public confusion at the direction of the talks. The marginal success of the Leave side has encouraged, rather than quashed, internal debate within the UK, and within its political parties. This debate continues, and the negotiations remain opaque to outsiders.

Our concern, however, is not with the terms of the final deal; it is with what the world will look like for the UK long after the disengagement has happened.

Our model opposed globalisation with localisation, and an economic focus with social cohesion, to produce a scenario set for modelling the future. In this piece, we review the implications of those scenarios for the UK itself.

SAMI Futures model

SAMI futures model

We offer no political opinions in this paper, nor do we attempt to predict a single outcome. What we have done is project a set of scenarios which encompasses the broad range of potential outcomes, and their implications. They will neither be as bad, nor as good, as their various supporters and opponents wish or expect. This is intentional – we are, as it were, operating at the centre of the Bell curve, not at its tails.Our UK-specific conclusions were as follows:

Global common approach

In this model, the UK would play an important part, since its constants of the English language, a trusted rules-based system, and an open, external focus would enable it to trade widely and smoothly. Negotiations with the EU would have resulted in a replicable model of frictionless trade, coupled with a movement of people almost identical to that prevailing before Brexit.

Pressure points would include aging populations in the west, encouraging immigration; the continuing rise in cyber crime as the world becomes more connected; and an increased focus on governance which may look like overheavy control on free enterprise.

Global competition

For the UK, being outside the EU forces it to engage, rapidly, with bilateral deals to maintain access to markets – and, importantly, access into the UK of the imports it needs to maintain the local standard of living. This world looks more ‘capitalist’, but for Britain, it should contain opportunities – though they will have to be fought for.

Localisation

The UK’s decision to leave the EU is less relevant than it at first appeared – the country becomes one amongst many, suffering as the EU’s cohesion diminishes but benefitting in its ability to be part of the prevalent bilateral agreement model. There is a distinct possibility that the Union will break down as the various constituent parts choose to go their own way.

Fragmentation and competition

For the UK, pinned between fortress Europe and an inward looking US, competing as a global player is difficult except in very specific areas – education, financial services, aviation and some specific high technology applications becomes key to the economy. Tourism is no longer about ‘cool Britannia’, but about the very thing Britain has in large quantities – history and tradition. Benefitting also from its language and still respected legal system, the “British model” of tight industrial focus, low tax and regulation, and determined international trade negotiations, becomes one other smaller countries work hard to replicate.

We have deliberately not included some elements which readers may expect to see in mid-term scenarios. The most obvious is climate change, and the associated impact of food and water insecurity, with their potential for migration and conflict. This is because it is not currently our view that climate change will have a magnitude-level impact within the period under discussion. Were we to extend the scenarios out to 2050, we would want to include it.

Our model worlds have many commonalities starting with a crisis which provokes significant change. We have not specified that crisis – it could be Brexit, it could equally well be a financial crash. The fact that it provokes change is what is important.

We do believe that developments in biotechnology and solar power fit within our end-date. The current development paths, especially in China and south-east Asia but also across the developed world, imply that there should be considerable impact from both.

Our divergences stem in the main from the axes we have chosen. These seem to us to be the most clear in the world as it is, and certainly those reflected most clearly in the political landscape within the UK and the world after the Brexit vote. Other oppositions would lead to other conclusions – there may be, particularly, value in this time span in considering international negotiation/militarism and wealth/poverty.

All four scenarios offer challenges. What the set shows, though, is that all routes also offer opportunities, even if some of them may seem to be somewhat disguised at present. We do not project likelihoods for any of the scenarios – they are tools for thinking and planning, rather than an attempt to confidently predict a specific future – and we encourage you to think about questions, and implications, for each one. We look forward to your views.

Written by Jonathan Blanchard Smith, SAMI Fellow.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at eSAMIsignup@samiconsulting.co.uk and/or browse our website at http://www.samiconsulting.co.uk

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