It’s been nine months since the Brexit vote, but the world has moved on to other political stories (Trump, Trump, Trump), and Brexit hasn't (yet) had much impact. After all, Brexit itself hasn't happened yet. Everyone’s talking about it, but the hard bargaining has yet to begin. The outcome remains far enough in the future (at least 2+ years) that it feels like something people should be concerned about, but not yet an urgent reality.
But Brexit is coming. And it’s going to hit big.
For now, we should look to the future of Europe as much as to the future of the UK. That makes assessing Brexit a hell of a lot more complicated.
The strongest argument for Brexit has always been that if Europe is bound to fall apart, the UK should get out early. During the referendum campaign, that argument was mostly shrugged off as “sky is falling” spin. But as far-right and anti-EU parties gain traction in this year’s election polls—the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the National Front in France, and Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany chief among them—upheaval in EU politics looks increasingly plausible, if still not imminent.
But even if none of those parties will lead a government in 2017, their move from the fringes into the political mainstream fundamentally alters European politics, gives concrete shape to the anti-EU movement, and makes the eventual breakup of the EU ever more likely. If that happens, the Brits will end up looking brilliant.
But if Europe stays together, the Brits must negotiate an unwind, and any agreement on Britain’s post-EU future will leave the UK worse off than today. Europeans at the bargaining table know this, and they want to send an unmistakable message to other EU members that exit comes with pain, particularly for those who might want to follow the Brits toward a "hard Brexit" that leaves the UK out of open immigration, the European judicial system, and the common market.
That means that the UK will end up with a European offer that inflicts real damage on its all-important financial sector and gives regional businesses less incentive to base operations in the UK. By the way, the Scots may have plans for another try at exit from the UK—even if it makes little economic sense.
For our part, Brexit has been good for the political risk industry. People turn to Eurasia Group in times of extreme political uncertainty—and this story will be spinning out uncertainty for years. At every stage, in many countries, in multiple industries. No firm is as well-equipped as ours to respond to these complex political stories.
There’s one last factor that makes Brexit especially compelling for us. As I’ve said many times, working in political risk is like driving a cab—you get more business when it’s raining outside, but you lose when it’s raining so hard that people stay home. For now, Brexit is raining hard. Here’s hoping that the geopolitics surrounding Brexit don’t make it a torrential downpour.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.