While optimism reigned supreme at this year’s Mipim, the Brexit referendum could transform the UK from a cultural and economic global focal point to a recession-wracked pariah. So, which side are you on?

Jack Pringle

As well as, or maybe because of, Mipim being an alcohol-fuelled networking extravaganza, it’s a good place early in the year to take the economic temperature of the nation.

This year you might have expected the mood to be dominated by worries about Brexit, China in “recession”, low oil prices affecting the Middle East, commodity prices at rock bottom, stock exchanges in bear territory, Brazil (the B in the Bric countries) approaching failed economy status, Europe and its Euro in a “bit of a state”, wars and terrorism raging on our borders and 5 million refugees trying to pour into Europe.

But, no, the Manchester and London stands at this year’s Mipim were awash with opportunities and optimism. Manchester with its NOMA district and Northern fringes giving plenty of scope to mop up the demand for more housing; London ploughing on with its mission to become the world’s safe haven for capital, its most diverse city and de facto capital.

Yes, there was lots of talk about Brexit. Stuart Lipton opened the London stand by saying that no decisions on any major project would happen until the referendum was over and that we may as well all stay in Cannes and drink rosé until June. People generally agreed with that – it’s as if the pause button has been hit for a few months, but despite a consensus that Brexit would be a disaster for the UK, this caution was set within a spirit of optimism.

Why on earth did Cameron do this? Why have two (incompetently run) referendums in a row, when there was no need – at least for the second one?

I hope that we did not have our heads in the sand at Cannes. It is not too difficult to see a Shakespearian tragedy unfolding from Brexit. Let’s look back: the beleaguered coalition prime minister, fearing a rout from UKIP, promised a referendum on EU membership following the Scottish referendum – to defend his political right flank.

Then he won the election, showing the UKIP threat to have been illusory. He would then have lost the Scottish vote if (irony of all ironies) Gordon Brown had not made the speech of the century. Next Cameron was stuck with an EU referendum to be held after he negotiated significant reforms, which he didn’t get.

Then his arch rival Boris turned against him in a nakedly ambitious grab for power. All we need now is the odd banana skin in the run up to June and the referendum is lost.

Scotland will call for another referendum and will leave the Union, sending us a farewell present of a bunch of nuclear submarines that we can’t park anywhere.

We will have five years of negotiations with both the EU and Scotland on the terms of exit, which will destabilise the economy. All that inward investment into the UK to use us as a launch pad into Europe will go elsewhere, and its owners will learn French or German. The Disunited (Billy No-Mates) Kingdom, Little Britain, will be in recession for the best part of 10 years.

Why on earth did Cameron do this? Why have two (incompetently run) referendums in a row, when there was no need – at least for the second one? If “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”, a referendum is a much worse way of making decisions.

The second camp comprises Tory warhorses and members of the the ultra-right, each of whom vie to be more unappealing than the next

The general principle of our form of parliamentary democracy is that we elect (hopefully clever) people to look into the issues and make reasoned decisions on our behalf, having debated long and hard. In referendums the majority of people will have very little idea of the issues at stake, especially if they are complex – as in this case they are.

The danger is that the vote will hinge on very simplistic personal issues like “will I lose my job to a Romanian?”, rather than bigger questions like “will there be any jobs?”

There seem to be two pro-Brexit camps. Firstly, those who do fear for their jobs, as in the above example. Who would not have sympathy with this group? Surely something should be done to help it by way of a mandatory living wage to stop undercutting, as well as the introduction of much better training schemes? But, if I had to negotiate visas for every EU member of my office, I know that Perkins+Will London would grind to a halt pretty quickly.

The second camp comprises Tory warhorses and members of the ultra-right, each of whom vie to be more unappealing than the next: Michael Gove, IDS, Nigel (“there is no global warming”) Lawson, Nigel Farage, and so on. Boris is the only attractive personality in the camp, and we know that he does not really mean it.

By contrast, the “Stronger Together” camp seem a fairly level-headed decent bunch – I know which of these two crowds I would rather hang out with.

Here’s hoping I don’t need a visa to get over to Mipim next year.

Jack Pringle is principal, managing director EMEA at Perkins+Will