ICE President Sir John Armitt calls for the infrastructure and construction industry to unite around a clear post-Brexit vision.

It is early days in what looks likely to be a protracted negotiation with the EU and other nations over the UK’s post-Brexit position.

It is often the case with infrastructure projects that technical solutions are promoted before the clear vision and objectives are set. Promoting solutions too quickly can lead to unrealistic expectations, too firm a mind-set, and it can make it harder to agree and achieve a realistic position down the line.

‘Clear vision’

If we start out by getting to the heart of what it is we are really trying to achieve, often we tease out the real risks and opportunities more quickly, and we end up with a decision that is strategic, benefitting society in the long term.

This same strategic thinking must be applied to the Brexit negotiations – we must not fall into the trap of promoting solutions too quickly, or without sound evidence, and inadvertently boxing ourselves into a corner. Negotiations should be guided by a clear vision of what sort of society we want to be in the long term.

Leadership group

In July, a cross-sector built environment leadership group was established to inform Brexit negotiators with facts and evidence on the issues that affect our ability to deliver infrastructure that supports a prosperous society and economy. This group, which I am chairing, has rightly started by taking a strategic overview of what a post-Brexit UK could achieve, and our sectors’ role in contributing to that vision.

This work will be followed by a more detailed consideration of what is needed to meet the vision – looking across infrastructure investment, skills, codes and standards, research and innovation, and procurement. All of these things will be impacted by our relationship with Europe and the wider world.

This is an unprecedented situation. Reaching the best solution for the nation will not be quick or easy but it is the most critical challenge facing us and we must get it right.

To do this effectively we – the infrastructure and construction industry – must speak with one clear, coherent voice. Many of us will be thinking deeply about the same issues. We should share that thinking so Government cannot accuse us of being fragmented or inwardly focused. And by working together government can be in no doubt of our opinion, commitment and support.

About the group and author

The Brexit Leadership Group Sir John is chairing includes: Amanda Clack, RICS President; Richard Laudy, Head of Infrastructure at Pinsent Masons; Andrew Wolstenholme, Co-Chair of the Construction Leadership Council; Mike Putnam, CEO and President at Skanska; Geoff French, Aecom; Dr Scott Steedman, Director of Standards at BSI; James Stewart, Global Infrastructure Chair at KPMG; Nick Roberts, CEO UK and Europe at Atkins.

Sir John Armitt, ICE President, is also chair of the National Needs Assessment executive group. He is a member of the National Infrastructure Commission. His previous roles include chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, chief executive of Costain and chief executive of Network Rail.