… and that is exactly how this madness must end – with a second decisive Brexit vote before PM Johnson and his no-deal cronies bankrupt the country
Ten days ago I went to Brussels to receive the first prize, with our Spanish partners Rafael de la Hoz, in the competition for some significant new offices for the European Commission and to prepare to negotiate the contract to design them. The irony of a UK architect being involved in this EU project at the time of Brexit was lost on no one. Miraculously our government has negotiated membership of the Government Procurement Agreement through the WTO, so we still qualify to do the job whether the UK is in or out of the EU. That’s the only good news out of government for quite some while.
Our PM, despite his bluff and public schoolboy charm, is like a wrecking ball smashing though parliament in an attempt to bully MPs
The EU officials I met were uniformly charming and sophisticated. Through this veil, I discerned a feeling of pity for us Brits and bemusement with Westminster’s antics, which they clearly follow as closely as we do. How could the mother of parliaments – the home of representative democracy have fallen into such chaos?
Last week, we had an office meeting. A no-deal Brexit is suddenly seen as a real threat and is on our agenda. Our pipeline of work has held up well in the past three years, but of course we have still been in the EU and the pound has been at its most competitive.
We are already the laughing stock of Europe; this madness must end soon before it bankrupts the country
Now we hear of layoffs in other architects’ firms and we are worried about our job-flow drying up if we crash out of the EU. Most particularly we are worried about our staff. We try to attract the very best and the result is that about half our staff are non-UK and mostly EU nationals. The Home Office is treating people appallingly. The rules for non-UK workers to stay in the country are fiendishly complex and the procedures expensive. We want to support all our EU staff and have had to set up a workstream and workshops to help them through the maze. But what happens to them after a no-deal Brexit?
When I successfully campaigned to be elected president of the RIBA in 2004 I was trying to make the point that politics has a profound effect on the practice of architecture and the broader construction industry.
I was campaigning to replace PFI, which I thought resulted in poor design standards and was bad value for money, with a better system. I managed to triple the RIBA’s public affairs budget, and we cut some ice in Westminster. I had an unlikely supporter in the Italian superstar architect Massimiliano Fuksas who saw only too plainly how politics in Italy had a detrimental effect on those trying to design a better society. PFI aside, I’m not sure if I convinced many people of my argument as it was the era once described as the “death of politics” – the Right had won the economic argument and the Left had won the social argument.
Those days are well and truly over and I think everyone will concede that our industry and our professions are at the mercy of political policymakers whose views seem ever more extreme, polarised and surprising.
We seem to have the worst clutch of politicians in power in 40 years. Our PM, despite his bluff and public schoolboy charm, is like a wrecking ball smashing though parliament in an attempt to bully MPs, including those from his own party, to support his strategy.
He has prorogued parliament for five weeks and sacked 21 of his own party’s most distinguished members for disloyalty thus destroying his majority. What next from a prime minister wishing to defy the elected representatives of the people?
Johnson wanted parliament to agree to go for a snap general election – in spite of having thrown away his majority as he believes in his power at the ballot box – but parliament didn’t fall for it. He is aided and abetted in his brutal strategy by Dominic Cummings, a spin doctor so bright and yet so dark that he makes Tony Blair’s Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell look like fairy godmothers.
And then of course there is Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new leader of the house – a Georgian construction himself, who campaigned with his nanny at his side, a climate-change denier, who is against same-sex marriage and abortion (for any reason) but is pro zero-hours contracts for the proletariat.
We are already the laughing stock of Europe; this madness must end soon before it bankrupts the country.
A referendum started it all and I think a decisive referendum is needed to end it – exit with any deal that’s on the table or remain.
And when the dust settles, we must get in there and lobby for our industry.
Jack Pringle is principal and EMEA regional director at Perkins+Will