British Prime Minister Theresa May has officially triggered Article 50 which marks the beginning of a two-year negotiation process for the terms of UK’s exit from the EU. The UK will ask for free trade and control of immigration and lawmaking while, for the EU, the focus will be on ensuring that there is no easy ride for the British as it tries to safeguard the stability and commitment of its 27 remaining member states. Here’s a quick snapshot of the process and what to expect:
It won’t be an easy exit
It’s open season for both the UK and EU. According to Irish PM Enda Kenny, negotiations could turn vicious while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said that the process will be “very, very, very difficult”. Not surprising — after all, this is a divorce from a 44-year ‘marriage’. Theresa May will also need to deal with the added pressure of fresh calls for a second independence referendum in Scotland from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
A challenging time frame
The timing of Article 50 was up to Britain but what happens next is up to the EU. Time is crucial as there is 2-year deadline and, realistically, the UK has up to end 2018 to agree terms of the breakup and win the trade deal it wants as the resulting deal would need to obtain the consent of the European and British parliaments. Otherwise, Britain will crash out of the EU without a pact and be subject to higher tariffs (subject to the WTO).
Negotiations might move along slowly because all 27 member states of the EU must first agree a common negotiating line before chief negotiator Michael Barnier can meet his British counterpart David Davis at the table. This alone could take months, particularly with distractions along the way such as the French and German elections in May and September, respectively. If the rest of the EU agrees, the two-year negotiating period can be extended, leaving Britain in the EU for a while longer. Or, the two sides could agree on a transitional period.
What’s on the table
Britain wants to win back control of labour flows and lawmaking, while landing a new free trade pact with the bloc by March 2019. The EU wants the UK to first pay off a £50 billion bill to cover EU staff pensions and other expenses that the UK has agreed to. The UK is likely to question the amount to be paid and the EU will not allow the UK to cherry pick on deals to be negotiated now that it is out of the bloc.
The overall impact of Brexit on the UK and London and their place in the world, remains to be seen, and there are fears that London’s position as a global financial centre will be affected, among other things. But, we expect the UK to recover and regain its momentum once there is clearer direction. The UK has long been a sovereign global power, even before its membership in the EU and we believe that it will find its footing as it charts its freedom from the EU.
- The performance of the pound. Following the invocation of Article 50, the pound dropped (albeit not too sharply as most of the impact had been factored into the sterling since the referendum) to RM5.48 but rallied back to RM5.50 as at press time. We believe there will be a rise in the currency as negotiations get under way. These few months could be the the last period during which the pound will sink further before it recovers once official negotiations are underway.
- Window of investment opportunity. Savvy foreign investors are taking advantage of the favourable exchange rate to invest in the UK. They are seeing the opportunity that Brexit presents, understanding that while there might be uncertainties ahead, UK’s fundamentals are strong enough to ride out the Brexit process.
Housing crisis: residential property in demand
The UK’s housing crisis is a real one, and one that is not going to go away anytime soon. Britain needs some 300,000 houses to be built in a year to address skyrocketing prices and housing demand, yet it has consistently fallen short of the mark. With such high prices, there is now an increasing number of young renters known as Generation Rent who are unable to afford to buy their own homes. The scarcity of houses and the favourable exchange rate combines to form an opportunity for property investors in the UK.
PwC’s research into housing affordability for generation rent shows that buyers may now have to save for 19 years in order to buy their first home (assuming deposit is raised entirely from their own savings without family assistance). In 2000, the same group would have been able to buy after saving for just 6 years, and in 1990 it took only around 2 years. PwC estimates a generation renter starting to save in 2016 can now buy in 2035. See our article: Britain, A Nation of Renters?
Both the EU and the UK government agree on one thing: that this is unprecedented territory and neither side knows how the talks pan out.
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