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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)

  • Industry Professional

    Dear Paul,

    you are suggesting that the bureaucratic public procurement procedures in the UK are purely down to EU regulations being forced onto the UK public bodies and that bureaucracy would just disappear once the UK has left the EU, which is a common belief amongst the Eurosceptics. I can assure you from firsthand experience that there are other European countries that handle the OJEU process much less bureaucratic than the UK. How the process is handled is very much down to the way the national public bodies are applying the EU regulations.

    The AJ article quoted by Alan Dunlop should make it clear that the bureaucracy created around the OJEU process is down to the UK’s own making. How would you explain otherwise that in France and Germany design contests are still the norm for high profile projects whereas in the UK they are not? It is national policies (like the UK governments requirement for framework agreements, contractor and project management led projects) and not EU regulations that make it impossible for small firms to get access to large segments of architectural work in the UK.

    My prediction is that leaving the EU will change little for public procurement in the UK - unless the risk averse culture in the UK is changing. The difference in the future will be that there is no EU scapegoat anymore when it becomes apparent that bureaucracy and red tape have not miraculously disappeared.

    Thomas Bernatzky

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  • As part of 'planning our way out of this mess' wouldn't it be nice if politicians (at all levels) caught manipulating their electorate by telling porkies got penalised - maybe by having points taken off their licencees to practice politics?
    A certain number of points and they'd be out (sorry, Boris) - and they should surely be capable of being treated as professionals, in the interests of maintaining a healthy democracy, rather than what's recently been all to easy to perceive as an abused travesty of the real thing.

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  • Politicians don't seem able to help themselves when it comes to eliding fact and fiction. I fear the direct lie about '£325 million a week' was quite unnecessary when the real figure, apparently £190 million, is quite bad enough.
    In relation to OJEU procedures, I completely take the point that some other countries don't seem to have the same problem. I recall the winter Olympics held in France where not one single contract for anything went to any firm that wasn't French. They order things better there. My hope is that the experience of OJEU will result in simpler and better public procurement arrangements in the UK in the future. At worst, we will have the liberty to make our own mistakes.

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  • I agree in some way with Thomas Bernatzky that the EU will change little for public procurement in the UK for as long as the risk averse culture in the UK remains. The main thing to say is that risk culture would have undoubtedly remained dominant had we stayed in the EU and so the democratic window prised open by the Brexit vote - itself a risk-taking mandate - at least gives us an opportunity to argue for more challenging, experimental ideas and mindsets.

    In terms of Paul Iddon‘s point: whether things will be dandy and we will see the sunny uplands of a resurgent Britain is down to us. Sadly, there is no crystal ball and no guarantees. No predictions are possible (there are no expert politicians only expert managerialists) but the good thing about leaving the EU is that it allows us to make out own future. So this situation may cause trepidation partly because we have relied on EU largesse for so long, but there is a golden opportunity to shape something far better than offered by an unrepresentative, unelected technocracy in Brussels.

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  • And let's not forget that the largesse derives from the UK being a net contributor. It's a bit rich, to coin a phrase, to be bribed with your own money.

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  • dominic cox

    thank you Paul for your courage and honesty. may we also be reminded that PFI was a result of EU policy on % GDP for public spending, and that the withdrawal of RIBA recommended fee scales a result of EU anti-competitive rules?

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