The profession needs to ensure its business case is put to the fore in the crucial forthcoming trade negotiations
Brexit was the dog that did not bark at MIPIM this year. Although there were isolated sessions referring to it, that was about it. It is not clear why this was.
It could either be that it was really thought to be very much a side-issue, or alternatively that there was so much uncertainty that it was not worth thinking about it, at least for now.
There was, of course, talk about major shifts in the UK market away from high-end resi, but even then the fall in the exchange rate was seen as attracting fresh foreign investment.
If the relative silence about Brexit was based on complacency or the putting of heads into the Cannes sand, then it is indeed worrying. The triggering of Article 50 reminds us just how far the government has shifted its stance. Brexiteers were telling us before the referendum that we would remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union. Now it seems we may even walk away altogether without any agreement at all.
The significance of this change in approach for the construction industry cannot be underestimated. Everything that had been taken for granted, like freedom to provide services and recognition of professional qualifications falls away and needs to be asked for again in a free trade agreement. This provides endless scope for interested parties in the EU27 to seek to re-erect barriers in areas where they fear competition.
So the architectural profession and those related trades and professions whose freedoms are equally critical will have to make sure that what they need in the hoped-for free trade agreement gets included. This is not just about making sure that the precise language required in the new trade agreement is understood by the government, but also making sure that any obstacles on the side of the EU27 are addressed.
The RIBA needs support from the grassroots to make sure every individual politician understands what is at stake for architects
The RIBA is working hard to spell out the issues and to lobby government, but the vast range of issues that confront it across all sectors means that the institute needs support from the grassroots to make sure that every individual politician understands what is at stake for architects as MPs and peers exercise such scrutiny as they are permitted while the negotiations proceed.
Of course, what will make most difference for architects is less their right to provide services in the EU and their access to the talent they need, important as those are, than what happens to the wider economy and to the ability of their clients to commission work. We can already see investment being diverted into the extremely costly transformation that will be required for each industry to accommodate to the new world. Much of this expenditure is almost certainly money diverted from investment in construction.
Architects need, therefore, also to engage in the wider debate, irrespective of whether they work in the EU or employ EU nationals. The government has decided to withdraw entirely from the most comprehensive free trade agreement ever created and to start to negotiate back each right to access and each aspect of standard-setting, one by one. This will have consequences.
David Green is a director of Belsize Architects