Given all the turmoil in politics, I want to look at Brexit this week. Parliament is so engrossed in this ongoing drama that other policy issues are being pushed aside.
The prime minister’s Chequers cabinet awayday produced a framework on which negotiations with the EU might be based, with proposals that would acknowledge the needs of British businesses, jobs and Northern Ireland border problems.
But two years on from the referendum and more than halfway through the Article 50 notice period, where are we really?
Unfortunately, we are still near first base, and everyone in the financial services industry is affected whether we like it or not.
Advisers will need to hold clients’ hands through the political uncertainty of the next few months. Brexit is taking up most policy bandwidth right now; there are consultations and talks about reform but major initiatives are not on the cards. The cold-calling ban has been put on hold, vital social care funding reform has been delayed and things like the pensions dashboard are stuck in limbo.
The government wants free trade and alignment in goods regulations, but there is less clarity so far on services, which comprise the overwhelming majority of the economy. A system of mutual recognition of standards and products would be ideal.
Theresa May has adopted a more practical position than before. For more than a year, businesses have been explaining to ministers the importance of certainty over future arrangements and as close to frictionless trade as possible, while also ensuring standards are aligned so our goods and services are accepted in the EU and vice versa.
Time and again ministers told them not to worry; that Europe would agree to our demands.
But in recent weeks, businesses decided those assurances could not be relied upon. Prior to the latest cabinet agreement the level of anxiety had reached fever pitch.
Uncertainty has already driven many financial services and industrial firms to invest overseas instead of the UK, and difficulties in attracting skilled workers from other countries has held back development of service industries.
The position of the extreme Brexiteers did not command a majority in parliament. The resulting departure of key hardliners could pave the way to a more sensible, pragmatic outcome.
The majority of Conservatives do not believe the British people voted to lose our manufacturing success or our world-leading positions in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, research and finance – yet that would be the consequence of an extreme Brexit. As the party of business, most back May’s more pragmatic approach. I expect her to see off a leadership challenge.
The sooner we settle such political manoeuvering and our relationship with the EU, the sooner we can get some of these much-needed initiatives back on track.
Ros Altmann is former pensions minister