Local Transport Today is the authoritative, independent journal for transport decision makers. Analysis, Comment & News on Transport Policy, Planning, Finance and Delivery since 1989.

Brexit = Uncertainty squared

Local Transport Today
08 July 2016

IT WASN'T meant to end this way. Had David Cameron led his fellow ‘remainers’ to victory, the UK today would be little different to that of a fortnight ago, except more confident about its continued membership of the EU. The Brexit vote changes everything, bringing uncertainty to matters across society that had previously seemed settled. This was always the logical outcome of an exit vote and, indeed, is nothing to be feared in the minds of the Brexit supporters. The implications for transport  could be huge. European legislation frames actions and practices across the sector. Vehicle emission standards? The EU. Lorry weights, dimensions and designs? EU. Rail standards? EU. Procurement processes? EU. Environmental assessment? EU. Air quality? EU. Noise? EU. Emissions trading? EU. Road charging? EU. Data protection? EU. 

On funding, the Brexiteers say the UK Government will have more money and more freedom to decide how that money is spent. Perhaps so. But the immediate impact of exit is to jeopardise projects in receipt of EU funds. There are fears for the future of transport projects such as the South East Wales Metro, dependent as they are on EU structural funds. Access to European Investment Bank loans may also be in jeopardy. Total EIB lending to the UK amounted to EUR58.2bn over 2004-2015, including for transport projects such as Crossrail, and Metrolink in Greater Manchester. 

Away from infrastructure funding, some UK universities are already reporting that their mainland European colleagues are politely asking them to withdraw from bidding consortia for EU research projects. UK transport consultants and local authorities may also get the cold shoulder.

As well as direct implications of withdrawal there are indirect ones too. Speaking at Modelling World last month, Yaron Hollander wondered how many transport project business cases stand up to the impacts of a Brexit vote. Credit rating agency Moody’s decision to downgrade Transport for London's outlook this week is based on the expectation of a slowdown in the economy, and lower patronage growth on public transport. 

The impact of changing faces in Government must await the outcome of the Conservatives’ leadership contest. But changes are already afoot within Whitehall, with civil servants being drafted in to the Brexit negotiations. With these expected to last years, there may be a lot less time for officials and politicians to work on domestic policy and legislation.    

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