“What if the Prime Minister telephones another EU leader on Monday and encourages him or her to oppose or even veto an extension? That would be an interesting Supreme Court case.”

Lord Pannick speaking in the House of Lords, 19/10/2019

Notwithstanding the common ailment of Brexit fatigue, I watched most of the ‘Super Saturday’ parliamentary session - and was struck by the confident and optimistic approach of the Government and their supporters, contrasted by the earnest pessimism of those wishing to frustrate the process. And nor was that juxtaposition reversed after the vote went against the Government, 306-322.

So this commentary looks at the Mexican stand-off which is Brexit, and consider how the next few days might achieve Boris’s aim of leaving the EU by 31st October: and what the consequences could be for the Union, and particularly Scotland.

Perhaps the most significant contribution on Saturday was not in the House of Commons at all, but the House of Lords: from Lord Pannick. He focused not on whether Boris would send the letter to the EU asking for an extension, but on whether Boris might seek to persuade one or more of the EU leaders to reject that request, and whether Boris might be in trouble with the courts again if he did.

Pannick was indeed right on the button. Boris’s meaningful letter, seeking to nullify the impact of the extension request, did indeed accompany the photocopied extract from the Benn Act; and a Court of Session hearing is indeed taking place today in Edinburgh. But, judging by the bonhomie and smiles at the EU summit last Thursday, there is clearly a game plan to ensure that Brexit doesn’t get into stalemate yet again. As we said last week, the EU Commission faces some big issues quite apart from its relations with the United Kingdom, and it needs to get Brexit done just as much as Boris.

It’s Germany, the engine room of the Eurozone, which is in the most challenging position at present, and that’s a serious issue for the European Union as Germany has to act as its lender of last resort when everything else goes pear-shaped. Because almost 2/3 of Germany’s leading businesses are made up of old economy industries such as machine tools, chemicals, cars and finance, it feels the impact of weakening world trade far more than others. Holger Bingmann, president of the BGA, a German trade federation, said recently “A hard Brexit would have catastrophic consequences for German foreign trade”.

The Government - Parliament stand-off may be the thing that catches the headlines at the moment, but once Brexit is done there’ll be an even bigger stand-off for the Union of the United Kingdom: and it will not be Northern Ireland in the frame here – it will be Scotland.

Those who watched SNP leader in Westminster Ian Blackford’s face as he delivered his angry speech on the floor of the House of Commons will have noted his steely resolve for independence, fresh from the SNP’s Aberdeen Conference. There will be a huge push for a second referendum once Brexit is done, and it may prove unstoppable. I doubt that the British will be prepared to follow the Spanish example in locking up Nicola Sturgeon as a political prisoner should she engineer an ‘unofficial’ referendum.

Of course if it does take place, and if it did result in a vote for independence, Edinburgh may find the door firmly closed against it in Brussels. Exchanging the whole of the United Kingdom for Scotland is unlikely to be appealing to Macron, Merkel and their colleagues, particularly as it would be accompanied by another swathe of land border issues: this time with England. Hadrian’s Wall doesn’t really cut the mustard for customs posts.

But Boris will really have to turn on all his charm north of the border in order to avoid the Scots overturning the 2014 referendum, and it will take a lot more than Gordon Brown appearing at the last minute to bring doubters back to the Union.

Of course there are very different perspectives across Scotland, and the Brexit outcome for fishing and agriculture will be key determinants. In retrospect, Boris may be wishing he’d referred rather more to Scotland, not only in his speech on Saturday but also in the Withdrawal Agreement itself.

There is no doubt, however, that business is lining up strongly behind bringing Brexit to a conclusion, and it is mightily relieved to have a deal with the European Union on the table. That’s what gives me confidence that it will be done this time, and in short order.

On Thursday morning last week The Share Centre hosted its annual Shares4Schools Awards ceremony at the Mansion House. We were welcomed by the Lady Mayoress, and four winning schools joined the thoroughly enjoyable event. Each school starts with £2,000 real money, and competes for investment growth over the next eight months with teams from across the United Kingdom. Here’s the winning line-up:



Value achieved


Rivington & Blackrod High School




Sherborne School




Q3 Academy




The Skinners’ School




High School of Glasgow





Lord Lee, who writes a regular piece in FT Money and has recently authored ‘Yummi Yoghurt’, a book on investment and business written for sixth formers, regaled us with his own investing experience and joined a panel of fund managers from Miton Group, Crux Asset Management, Rathbone and Lion Trust to answer questions from the young people.

The Shares4Schools event followed a PIMFA summit last Wednesday for retail investment firms and financial advisers, designed to keep people up-to-date with the latest issues: intergenerational equity, sustainable investing, Brexit and market prospects over the coming year.

Sounds familiar? It’s a sprinkling of the issues which we write about each week in this commentary. But the common theme across both these events was a positive, can-do, attitude to UK prospects in the months and years ahead. So, whatever gloom may be laid on thickly by the earnest pessimists in parliament, it’s worth remembering that there are plenty of confident optimists out there who see for the UK a bright future ahead.


Gavin Oldham OBE

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