“SWOT is cool, but strategic thinkers know that there is a point which:
- Strengths become weaknesses,
- Weaknesses become strengths,
- Opportunities become threats,
- Threats become opportunities.
Strategic entrepreneurs and leaders find the greatest insights hiding behind SWOT.”
One hundred days after the close of the Brexit transition period is a fitting time to review the current profile of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from the United Kingdom’s perspective. While the economic impact remains difficult to assess due to its eclipse by the pandemic, we can already see some of these risks and opportunities starting to emerge.
So in this commentary we look at some of these issues, and point to some areas which could merit more focus over the months ahead; in particular, as regards the UK’s integrity.
Arguably our single largest strength has been to be able to chart our own path through the pandemic, as opposed to being reliant on the European Commission for vaccine supply. The first nine months of Covid-19 was particularly challenging for the UK with, for example, insufficient focus on care homes, and a lack of appreciation of how the universities would become the winter super-spreader. However, the decisive stance taken by the UK Government in placing early orders for large quantities of vaccine, and then putting the excellent Nadhim Zahawi in charge, has been exemplary.
As a result, many deaths have been avoided in 2021 and we can look ahead to a recovery which will be much stronger and earlier than that of the European Union. This will prove to be a significant long-term strength, which the stock markets are now starting to recognise.
The weakness and threat quadrants both concern the integrity of the United Kingdom. Firstly, we see the awful legacy of Leo Varadkar’s and Theresa May’s struggles - with Varadkar using EU leverage to pursue Irish unification, while May accepted far too many compromises as she attempted to stay in control of British politics. Boris probably anticipated that it would be necessary to ride roughshod over the Irish Sea restrictions: we certainly did, here at Share Radio.
But it's really sad to see violence breaking out again in Northern Ireland, and the Assembly’s politicians need to work extra hard in order to find resolutions which can maintain the peace.
The biggest threat again concerns UK integrity, and in this case it's Scotland. The elections in May are critical to avoid this becoming a major challenge, as a clear majority for independence would seriously undermine resistance to a second referendum.
We need to hear many more Scottish accents in the Conservative hierarchy. We all know that the Scots have managed the United Kingdom exceedingly well at many times over the past 250 years, but they're not nearly visible enough at present.
The older royals certainly understood the emphasis to be placed on our Scottish heritage: for me, the most poignant part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral service was the lone piper accompanying the lowering of his coffin into the vault in St. George's Chapel. It didn't get a mention during the BBC discussion at the close of their programme - why not?
The impact of continuing tensions and a potential split between England/Wales and Scotland is by far the greatest threat arising from Brexit, much larger than the economic impact. We need to take it very seriously.
Finally in the SWOT opportunity quadrant: this is all about opening up trade, and bringing real prospects to all right across the UK, in terms of both geography and age. The establishment of Free Ports is giving a real sense of purpose, and Liz Truss has been making great progress as our international trade minister. Early emergence from the pandemic will provide a great springboard for action, and even our trading levels with the European Union are beginning to recover from the pandemic and that difficult first quarter:
So, the score sheet is encouraging, if we can get on top of those UK integrity challenges.
Meanwhile EU trading friction will continue to reduce, albeit slowly; but the EU’s slow recovery from the pandemic will inevitably have some secondary impact on us as well.
Gavin Oldham OBE