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So Brexit is happening – but we're going to be ok

Paul Finch

There won’t be mass expulsions of non-British architects and we should be glad to be rid of the OJEU

As with any momentous political decision, there will be a period of anxiety and uncertainty whichever way you voted. The frothier players in the property and financial markets will go into panic mode and there will be knock-on effects for architects which will be a matter for regret, at least in the short term.

Taking a longer view, there is no reason why the world’s fifth-biggest economy, which has a trading surplus with the world outside the EU (but a deficit within it) should not prosper, especially given that for three centuries our history has been one of internationalism, treating the entire globe as a single market.

Culturally, it is hard to believe (especially in the world of the mobile phone and the internet) that European borders mean very much. I suppose it is possible that there will be fewer opportunities for architects to work in EU countries quite as easily as currently, but in general it is possible for architects to employ almost anyone they like, from anywhere in the world. Hence the United Nations-feel of many London offices: in theory it may look difficult, but in practice there is usually a way. We are not going to see mass expulsions.

One practical advantage for clients and professionals in the world of construction will be the ending of OJEU requirements, a ghastly waste of time and money liked only by procurement nerds who contribute nothing constructive to the creation of new environments.

Although I personally voted to leave, I had no triumphalist feelings on ‘independence day’. But I do believe that serious threats to English common law as opposed to Napoleonic codes, and an inevitable process of federalism and concomitant loss of sovereignty, will be influenced for the better by the vote.

The campaign has been a dreadful one in terms of serious debate, for which I chiefly blame the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer. Their ’Project Fear’ campaign backfired because it was absurdly hysterical, and required Whitehall departments (particularly the Treasury) to debase themselves by operating as a propaganda machine in a way I found distasteful and improper.

The received opinions of the complacent metropolitan elite, including cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood, won’t change as a result of the referendum. However, the more thoughtful members of it might recognise a fault in themselves, which is to assume not only that what they believe must by definition be right, but also that because it is right, everyone else must be thinking the same way. 


Readers' comments (16)

  • Thank you Paul Finch, this is the most rational, considered and reasonable reaction to Brexit for architects I've read.

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  • https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/work-won-through-ojeu-is-scant-and-falling/8674810.article

    AJ January 2015:
    "For most of the profession, the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) procurement process for winning publicly funded work is a dreaded, bureaucratic minefield which should be avoided. It is wasteful, anti-risk, frustratingly slow and off-limits to all but a handful of companies."

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  • Paul Finch makes some very good points here, but he also strikes the right tone. This is not a triumphalist moment but one for constructing a better future, one in which we have the autonomy to make decisions outside the technocratic framework of the EU. For those who are fearful, it is understandable – and there is inevitably going to be business difficulties in the months ahead. But let’s not forget that things were far from rosy before the referendum. For those who have experienced home-grown recessions or are still suffering the weak construction market that has existed in much of the UK for years, this reinvigoration of democratic political dialogue should be something that can overcome paralysis, but only if we see it as an opportunity rather than as a source of fear.

    This was not a vote against Europe (the people, the continent), but a vote against the technocratic institution of the EU. Foreign workers should not be worried… and more importantly, we should not engender paranoia in the way that we talk about this. At the moment, there is a poisonous tone and we all need to calm things down a little. When people start suggesting that democracy is over-rated - by those who don’t like the result - then you know that things are getting out of hand.

    A little bit more rational, political, confident discussion is needed, rather than the over-emotional, defensive, bile that seems to flow freely on Twitter by people who seem to think that it is OK to use the most contemptuous of language to describe those who exercised their democratic will. We need fewer claims that this vote represents “parochial, narrow-minded, bigoted little Britons” because then we learn nothing. Actually, it seems that such metropolitan elite contempt for half the population was what enlivened many marginalised voters to give them a kicking. The deal is done, let’s accept it and make it a positive experience. John McRae of Orms is right in saying that, now, the challenge is to explore what our new found freedom could be.

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  • Ben Derbyshire

    Dear Paul,

    Thank you for your 'keep calm and carry on' message. Arriving at work this morning, after a weekend of Pride marches, a practice summer picnic, and thunderstorms, the world seems like a very different place to the one we left on Friday evening. Re-assurances are in the air but practices like mine won't know where we stand until we understand our clients' intentions for continued investment in the housing projects the nation so badly needs.

    The impact on practices is uncertain, and so, therefore, must be the impact on the RIBA. As a candidate for the Presidency this has naturally been on my mind. The Institute did not capitalise on the short years of growth leading up to the referendum. Indeed its membership dwindled and its share of registrations fell sharply compared with the cheaper and less onerous option of ARB. Moreover, it made some disastrous investment and financial management decisions which will require substantial financial and organisational restructuring if the Institute is to remain solvent. And that's all before we begin to understand the implications of Brexit on its finances and fortunes.

    I stood for Council two years ago on a change ticket, and I'm standing for the Presidency now, similarly urging the RIBA and its members to come together to transform the Institute so that it achieves its purpose of advancing architecture by being championing architects wherever and however they practice. The RIBA must allow architects to be the voice of the profession and architects must re-take their Institute for this to happen.

    That the RIBA has change forced upon it by its financial situation means, at least, that stasis is not an option. So it will need strong leadership from people with experience at the helm of organisations to build on the foundation laid by Jane Duncan with a vision that its staff and members can get behind. It will not be a particularly easy job, but since change has been at the heart of my ambition since I joined Council, its one that I am up for, despite the difficulties.


    Ben Derbyshire. Chair, HTA Design LLP

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  • Silver linings...
    -No more OJEU: collective sigh of relief
    -Part 3 remains: Surely there a no longer a need to dilute it to suit the EU anymore.

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  • Hello Ben, it's not clear to me what your manifesto for RIBA leadership has to do with Paul Finch's opinion piece.

    Austin, great comments, thoughtful and balanced.

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    Paul, a voice of reason and calm.
    When things settle we will see the benefits and avoid the worst consequences of the demise of the misguided federalist project.
    Brian Waters

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  • Ben Derbyshire

    Dear Alan Dunlop,
    The answer to your question is that Brexit is yet another reason why the process of change at RIBA, started by Jane Duncan, must be pursued vigorously. If I am elected, I'd rather there was no doubt that is what I am about. So I take every opportunity in the digital media to say so.
    Apologies if you find this intrusive. But the small numbers we reach on these campaign hustings are not the 80% of RIBA members who don't vote. So I'm busy on Twitter, LinkedIn and in the chat-room of AJ on-line because I'm trying to reach a wider audience.
    Simple as that!
    Ben Derbyshire.
    Chair, HTA Design LLP

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  • Dear Paul
    Whilst I too thank you for your reassuring voice and, as Ben says above. the actually never used WW2 campaign of 'Keep calm and carry on'.
    My issue is that like many from the leave campaign it is long on faith and short on facts.
    It is a matter of debate whether the financial market turmoil will continue for the medium term or not. But it was actually predicted by the very experts that Mr.Gove suggested we are 'fed up with'.
    Also most of us would like some form of plan - being architects we tend to recommend planning things before we start on site - rater than the 'rabbit in the headlights' look on Boris and Gove's faces on Friday morning.
    So you may be right and things will be dandy and we will see the sunny uplands of a resurgent Britain...or will that be the UK?- or maybe just England and Wales? Difficult to tell at the moment.
    But at the moment I'd settle for a narrative on how this will be achieved over 'it'll be alright on the night'.

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  • This is a fair point, though in my experience architects spend an awful lot of time complaining about planning unless it accommodates precisely what they (and of course their clients) demand.
    In the case of the EU, the plan is everything -- the Euro, free movement of labour, ever closer union, expanding territories. The problem is that the planners, ie the Eurocrats, have created structures which are brittle rather than resilient, because they are not allowed to deviate. So the economies of Greece, Portugal and Spain are regulated by mass unemployment because their is no possibility of independent currencies adjusting to real market conditions.
    Not the least of the worries about EU strategies is the way they have inspired right- and left-wing nationalist parties who are gaining popularity because of unemployment and the devastating effect of a single currency, in effect controlled by Germany, on their internal economies.
    I do agree of course that we have to plan our way out of the morass, as long as the planning process takes account of the general condition of the world, well described by Lord King, former Governor of the Bank of England, as 'radical uncertainty'. We have to try to anticipate the unexpected, even if we know we can't predict it with huge certainty.

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