To be expected, amid flybys and chalet meetings, Brexit hung over the Farnborough International Airshow like a tethered aerostat (of which there were none, if you were wondering). Government officials and company executives chatted over coffees or champagne flutes about what the potential ramifications would be of a European Union that did not include one of its most powerful members. Multinational defense collaboration could suffer, some said; new trade laws could harm export opportunities, others said.
And then there was news of the political reshuffling by Theresa May on her first day as prime minister. In the words of the Telegraph, it was “one of the most brutal reshuffles in modern British political history.” How might this new leadership approach defense? How long will it take to establish a defense strategy and procurement priorities? Program delays, at the very least, are likely, many said.
But such conjecture was countered by rather encouraging news. British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon is to remain in post as part of the reshuffle. And the UK confirmed a plan to purchase nine P-8A maritime surveillance aircraft, worth around $4 billion, while also announcing a $2.3 billion deal to secure 50 AH-64E Apache helicopters.
Said Fallon in a statement: The P-8A aircraft “are part of our plan for stronger and better defence, backed by a budget that will rise each year of this decade. That means more ships, more aircraft, more troops available at readiness, better equipment for special forces, more being spent on cyber — to deal with the increased threats to our country.” Encouraging words.
And then there are the comments of Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, speaking in London ahead of the air show: “I don’t see right now any reason why it should fundamentally affect our relationship with the UK or our business deals with the UK.”
So then, much ado about nothing? The one statement made time and time again post-Brexit, including at Farnborough, is that there remains much we don’t yet know. And that indeed can cause harm — as government and industry alike go into something of a holding pattern as they figure out how to proceed.
The air of uncertainty is reminiscent to what Washington and the US at large experienced in 2013, with the budget sequestration and more temporarily the government shutdown. Most regarded both as bad government and potentially crippling, but few knew fully what the near-term or long-term effects would be. What we found in sequestration, what we are still finding, is the effects are gradual as stakeholders grasp implications, establish new procedures, prioritize requirements and learn to function in this so-called new normal. Brexit is far different than the mandated, across-the-board spending cuts that define a sequester. But requirements for moving forward will likely be quite similar.
So then, keep calm and carry on.