Over the past 25 years of my living in Israel I have often been asked how I, a quintessential Englishman who still wears a suit and tie at work – no matter what the heat — can survive the supposedly volatile and noisy Middle East atmosphere that is modern Israel. It is therefore with a growing incredulity that I watch what is going on in the land of my birth, the United Kingdom.
On the one hand certain constants remain – the Queen (anyone under the age of at least 70 has known no other Head of State), strawberries and cream at Wimbledon and, very sadly, the English football team not winning a major final!
It is in the political sphere that what was once a stable and boring country, has become embroiled in the most volatile situation that I can remember. Yes there were changes of Government and Prime Minister in the last 50 odd years, yes there were changes of economic policy, yes there were changes in the social mores and make-up, but however dramatic they sometimes were, they did not appear to threaten the overall structure of society and politeness of every day discourse.
The Brexit debate has split families, political parties and geographic regions in a degree and manner never seen before. The three years since the vote to leave has seen a political paralysis that makes my corner of the Middle East look total stable. There are more versions of Brexit than there are eggs – hard, soft, fractured, completely cracked, totally fluid and above all scrambled! Both major parties fighting themselves and not each other and if that were not enough, the scourge of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party seemingly running unchecked by its leadership.
Amazingly the economic performance of the Country has not fallen off a cliff, but as time has dragged on there are more and more signs of concern and worry, particularly amongst businesses that rely on the EU for imports and exports, in a world that has become dramatically global. Deals are being delayed pending some degree of clarity and policies that need implementation are left on the shelf for the lack of leadership. All this in the World’s 5th largest economy.
The need for clarity is clarion, but two radically difficult alternatives may emerge. On the one hand a post-Brexit UK where taxes are dramatically cut, regulation radically reduced, genuine free trade with the whole world permitted and a dynamic business orientated community is cultivated. Under this scenario the UK could be set for one of its greatest economic booms ever. On the other hand a spate of nationalisations, huge tax rises and draconian social policies that do not help but hinder economic growth, could at worst create a quasi-Venezuelan meltdown. It is of course possible that the classic, stoic, British, it will be “alright on the night”, lose the first few battles but “win the war in the end” outcome, also comes about.
All of this matters for Israel in a big way. On a business level the UK is one of Israel’s largest trade partners worldwide – there are hundreds of Israeli companies with UK-based activity. The friendly and relatively supportive relationship between the two countries, compared to many others and, of course, the shared parliamentary democratic system of government. Israel needs an open, friendly and supportive UK in the world – not to mention the security collaboration that greatly benefits the UK.
Let us all hope that, sooner rather than later, the traditional Speaker’s cry of “Order Order”, will no longer need to be shouted as often or as loudly as it is today!