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Policy briefing: Brexit - The great British project?

Arguably the largest project that the UK has ever undertaken has now begun. On 29 March, Prime Minister Theresa May triggered ‘Article 50’ of the Lisbon Treaty. This now begins the two-year period in which the UK will negotiate its exit from the European Union.

The entire process of disentangling our laws, regulations and trade deals with the rest of the EU will likely take more than the two-year negotiating period, but at the outset of the process there is still a range of possible outcomes, including no agreement, which have to be planned for. However, beyond that brief outline, no one is really sure what will happen now that the countdown has begun, or how Brexit will be managed or negotiated by either side.

Although the prime minister had insisted that “Brexit meant Brexit”, it is clear that there is a wide range of potential scenarios that could play out between now and 2019. The language of ‘hard Brexit’ was conspicuous by its absence in the letter sent by Theresa May to Donald Tusk – President of the European Council. The government published a white paper earlier this year, which set out at a very high level what this might look like, but it is reluctant to debate publicly its negotiating position, hence the number of imponderables that remain (at least in public).

Also, the remaining Member States will need to clarify how they intend to approach the negotiations. Given the various possible outcomes following the negotiations, it is not possible to comment more concretely as to how Brexit might affect the world of project management at this early stage, other than to point out that government has a huge pipeline of major projects planned or already under way before Brexit – this will now increase, or other business-as-usual activity may contract.

It is indisputable, however, that Brexit is the biggest short-term change management programme in the UK, certainly since the Second World War.

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