Andrew Henderson: Will 2018 be another rollercoaster?

Brexit looms large over business prospects.
Brexit looms large over business prospects.
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Some may feel that 2017 has been a turbulent, uncertain, and at times bruising year for business and for those now counting down the days to the Christmas break, a little festive rest and relaxation can’t come soon enough.

Looking beyond the tinsel, turkey, and office parties though, what can we expect when we return to the office in 2018 – a smoother ride politically or more bumps in the road?

Starting with a positive, for those weary of politics the good news is (at the time of writing) no elections or referenda are set to take place in Scotland next year.

Factor in Brexit, though, and 2018 looks set to be anything but a relaxing affair. That said, while 2017 was characterised by uncertainty over how the UK will leave the EU, for better or worse we can at least expect 2018 to remedy this. In order to meet the two-year Article 50 deadline, deals on exit and (if one is to be done) future trade, must realistically be reached next year. Expect intense activity from the off in January, while March will see the start of the 12-month countdown to Brexit. By then, tangible progress in the negotiations will be vital. If progress is not ­apparent, expect an uptick in coverage of businesses acting to implement ­contingency plans.

As recent events have shown, (and apologies to our National Bard for drawing him into this) just as it is with mice, the best laid schemes o’ negotiating teams gang aft agley. As the UK Government has experienced this week with the DUP, domestic politics have a way of working their way into the Brexit dynamic, and the EU27 may not be immune from their influence either. General elections take place next year in numerous EU countries including ­Sweden and Italy, any of which could generate unexpected headwinds to blow negotiations off course.

Staying with elections, November will see all 435 seats of the House of Representatives contested in the US midterms. Might the results of this public judgement on Donald Trump’s whirlwind time in the White House colour the US outlook on international relations and trade – in particular a post-Brexit deal with the UK? We also have the small matter of a potential state visit from Mr Trump and an invite, or lack thereof, to a royal wedding. Both will be watched closely and their impact on future trade relations pored over.

September will see the tenth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which preluded the recapitalisation of major UK banks. The economic and political effects of these events continue to reverberate, and we can expect much anniversary ­analysis both of the causes of the financial crisis and the future direction of the financial services sector. Brexit will dominate 2018, but other changes are in the offing for business too.

From March, almost all face-to-face dealings with MSPs and other senior government figures must be logged on a publicly-viewable lobbying register. Businesses should prepare now to ensure they are ready to comply with the new Holyrood rules. Significant changes to Scottish planning laws will also be considered in Parliament, and we will learn more soon about the Scottish Government’s plans for income tax north of the Border.

With much to keep business occupied at home, on the international stage political and economic uncertainty look set to dominate. It may be that in 2018, traditional choices between stability/certainty and uncertainty/risk are no longer as clear as they might once have been. In response to this, and as Scotland and the UK continue to seek their place in the new world order, business will need to adapt in order to analyse and manage political and economic uncertainty across the piece.

For those in need of something lighter and less political next year, there is of course the World Cup to look forward to. Just so long as you aren’t a Scotland fan.

l Andrew Henderson is director of public ­policy at legal firm Pinsent Masons