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Brexit deal defeat: Profession left ‘in an impossible situation’

Brexit europe

Architects have spoken out after prime minister Theresa May suffered a crushing parliamentary defeat over her proposed Brexit deal leaving the country in ‘uncharted territory’

Last night’s vote, which means it is increasingly likely the UK could leave the European Union without any agreements in place about future relationships, prompted the RIBA to call for an extension of the Article 50 exit procedure.

The institute’s chief executive Alan Vallance said: ‘[This] vote has left us in uncharted territory. “No deal” would be a disaster for the UK and ignores the deep economic, human and legal links between the UK and the EU.

‘For the architecture sector, projects continue to be put on hold as uncertainty damages the investment climate and many EU architects in the UK are still uncertain about their future.

Projects continue to be put on hold

He added: ‘Given the urgency of the situation, the government and parliament must, without delay, seek an extension of the Article 50 process to allow for a concerted attempt to reach a deal.

‘To be weeks away from leaving the EU with no deal or alternative places businesses in an impossible situation. Our politicians cannot leave the public in limbo and business to sort out the situation – they must work together to end the uncertainty.’

At the end of last year, the RIBA issued its own emergency advice to architects about running their businesses in the event of a no-deal Brexit – guidance that included how to prepare for issues with visas, supply chains and accounting.

Meanwhile, Invisible Studio founder Piers Taylor, who has repeatedly sounded the alert over the ‘Brexodus’ of EU nationals from UK practices and who organised an open letter from leading architects to prime minister Theresa May over Brexit, said he favoured a second referendum to break the deadlock.

’More than anything, most people agree that the overriding consequence of the unfortunate decision to hold an advisory referendum on the UK’s relationship with the EU is we are more divided than we have ever been, and these are divisions that whatever happens next, we are divided for a generation,’ he told the AJ.

‘There’s no easy way out of this. Sure we can extend Article 50, and carry on tweaking an ambiguous withdrawal deal until everyone runs out of patience, time, or the will to engage anymore with a government that has crushed our faith in politics. What this means for architecture is what it means for the rest often country: we need a bold, positive and future looking relationship with the rest of the world.

‘Right now, the whole country is holding its breath, and it would seem the least worst option is to abandon any more can kicking, and hold a people’s vote on no deal, May’s deal, or no Brexit.’

British Property Federation chief executive Melanie Leech said: ‘The government must set out urgently its plan to find a solution that the country can rally behind. It is critical that the government avoids the disruption and uncertainty posed by no deal.

‘Leaving the EU with no withdrawal agreement would be harmful to investment and the property sector’s ability to deliver new homes, support economic growth, regenerate towns and cities and help increase productivity – all benefits to people and businesses across the UK that the sector is keen to contribute.’

Later today, MPs will take a vote of no confidence in May’s government, which in the unlikely event it succeeds, could trigger a general election.

Following last night’s meaningful vote defeat, European Council president Donald Tusk hinted that the UK should stay in the EU.


David Green, director of Belsize Architects and former head of the European division of the Bank of England

The RIBA is quite right to point out the overriding importance of avoiding no deal. An extension of time seems essential to reach an acceptable outcome. However, the profession needs to be equally clear that, like the May deal, there are many potential deals that could be equally damaging to the profession.

The May deal made wholly inadequate provision for trade in services including immigration or recognition of professional qualifications vital for the profession. All this was still for future negotiation. It needs to be clear that the profession will be very vocal and fleet-footed in opposition to any deal which does not match its needs. Or which damages demand for its services.

Maggie Mullan of Maggie Mullan Architects

It’s like knitting fog. May will survive; not on a positive mandate but on the greater anxiety of a Corbyn-led government. [The situation] has echoes of Nero fiddling while Rome burns, decimating what is left of our indigenous manufacturing industries, in particular cars which are already suffering the diesel backlash.

In six months’ time, we will all be wondering what the question was in the first place

Mark Robinson, chief executive, Scape Group 

The outcome of this vote plunges the country and the industry into further uncertainty. While there are fundamental issues in Theresa May’s deal, this decision by MPs will prolong the economic impact on businesses and local communities up and down the UK.

One of the biggest concerns for construction bosses will be a further decline in the pound, leading to increased pressure on material prices. The construction materials price index increased 5.3 per cent on the year in January – a significant jump which has seen the cost of net imports from the EU rise to the highest level since 2011. Combined with the ever-widening skills gap, many will be wondering how they are expected to deliver projects at the necessary rate.

This toxic mix, with the added Brexit fear factor, has the potential to paralyse construction growth. While it is now less likely than ever that we will have our ducks in a row prior to our exit from the EU, the industry needs clarity on our access to essential construction talent from the EU, to ensure we have the manpower to deliver.

Despite the challenging environment we still need to build, a general election will be disastrous for the country. Right now we need a government that can reassure the industry that it is business as usual and we cannot be sidelined. It is local businesses, the market and economy that bear the brunt of continued delays. 



Readers' comments (2)

  • Architects are resilient professionals well used to dealing with the vicissitudes prompted by political and economic uncertainty. Rather than running round like headless chickens, the best thing to do is keep calm and carry on. The sun rises and the world turns, whether or not we are in or out of the EU.

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  • Well said Paul. Our 2 European employees, one Sardinian, one Greek, are totally unfazed and glad to be here instead of in bankrupted Euro currency land. The Greek one hasn't a good thing to say about the EU, who are the cause of her exile to the UK to gain work. Less of the hysterical poorly researched rantings of the South East bubble inhabitants and more dispassionate in depth analysis, including reporting about the wider issues of Brexit please AJ.

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