Disunited? The future for regulatory divergence within the United Kingdom

Disunited? The future for regulatory divergence within the United Kingdom

Disunited? The future for regulatory divergence within the United Kingdom

At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the consolidated UK response saw all four nations of the United Kingdom emphasise their alignment with one another—a pragmatic approach that sought to provide clear, unified guidance to individuals and businesses, wherever they might be based across the country.

Particularly in recent days, however, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson allowing England to ease its lockdown and thus diverge from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; the crisis has shed an uncomfortably bright light on the fragile equilibrium of our federal government and its devolved administrations. And only a mere few are viewing this as the major constitutional moment that it is.

Throughout March and April, we at Quiller found that clients operating nationwide were subject to a number of conflicting workplace guidelines, predominantly affecting companies with commercial premises on both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border. This early lack of alignment provided scope for confusion amongst business and, in most cases, required specific and ongoing government engagement from trade bodies.

The situation has only become more of a quagmire in the wake of the central UK government taking steps to reopen the economy. While getting the country moving again was always going to be more complicated than shutting it down, national variation in the rules has exacerbated an already unclear situation, leaving both business leaders and employees feeling muddled and vulnerable.

While it might be tempting to view this as a COVID-19 phenomenon, divergence between the four nations—politically and regulatorily—is only set to increase. Although Conservative and Unionist Party politicians like to ostentatiously tout the latter half of their official title when it suits them, the political reality in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been shifting for some time.

Take Scotland, for example, where recent YouGov polling for next year’s 2021 Holyrood election projected 54% support for the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), with the Tories lagging behind on 23% and Labour on just 12%. These stark figures are not a novel trend, either. In December’s General Election, the SNP took a staggering 47 of 59 Scottish constituencies. Like it or not, the events of the past six years have only exacerbated the tensions that brought about the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

None of this is to suggest that First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has been politicking during the crisis. Her acknowledgement that the rate of virus transmission likely remains higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK is a sound explanation for deciding to stick with the ‘Stay At Home’ campaign. What it does tell us is that, in our post-pandemic future, the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will increasingly flex their devolved muscles as and when they see fit.

The situation will become even more acute once the UK decouples from the European Union at the end of the year. A major flashpoint for future regulatory difficulties is currently burgeoning in Northern Ireland, where the proposed post-Brexit border arrangements necessitate a dual tariff regime—essentially creating a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. While Northern Ireland will be required to stay in line with some EU Single Market rules, the rest of the UK will be free to diverge, potentially imposing regulatory checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea.

What does this mean in practice for companies operating across the four nations of the UK? With a wealth of Brexit-driven changes coming down the track, and with COVID-19 an externality we are likely to have to reckon with in the long term, it is clearer than ever that heightened regulatory divergence is here to stay—and this is something for which business need to be actively prepared. As many sectors have recently come to learn, resilience is key. As well as supporting clients with scenario planning, we at Quiller are consistently fine-tuning our future forecasting to stay one step ahead of the inevitable curve.

In a world that has brought us Brexit and Coronavirus in the space of less than five years, no watertight constitutional projections can reasonably be made—but it would be foolhardy to assume that everything will remain the same.

Communicating in the crisis and planning for the future

Communicating in the crisis and planning for the future

Communicating in the crisis and planning for the future

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis for many organisations and people around the world, with half of the global population placed under restrictions in recent weeks.  

Whilst it has sent shockwaves through many aspects of our lives, creating problems we’ve never encountered before, the established principles of crisis communications remain the same. 

A wide range of high-profile leaders have communicated with differing degrees of compassion, ability and knowledge in recent weeks. Those that have been successful have concentrated on looking after people and being transparent about the progress they’ve made.

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

At Quiller, we’ve been helping organisations gather the essential information, analyse it quickly as this fast-moving situation evolves, and maintain the flow of communications to their stakeholders. 

We have witnessed businesses pivot swiftly to support the relief effort through innovation, commit to substantial donations and charitable initiatives, and use creativity and the strength of their brands to make a positive impact at this difficult time. 

In mid-May, we’re hosting a webinar to look at the urgent priorities for communications directors and business leaders, as well emerging best practice and lessons learned in recent weeks.

Our panel will include Justine McGuinness, an expert within the NHS, who has been responsible for communicating the efforts of heroic staff working tirelessly to save lives.  

We’ll also discuss how global organisations have been planning for a range of scenarios as markets transition to a ‘new normal’ and organisations set new strategies and goals for the months ahead.  

Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

Nobody has all the answers, but together we can tackle some of the biggest questions we face today, and we look forward to you joining us.

Please get in touch with us at events@quillerconsultants.com for more information and registration details for the webinar. 


Why it's no longer 'business as usual' in the coronavirus era

Why it's no longer 'business as usual' in the coronavirus era

Why it's no longer 'business as usual' in the coronavirus era

Arguably the most significant consequence of the global coronavirus pandemic is that a number of previously ‘unthinkable’ outcomes have now come to pass. Even two months ago, few would have predicted the sheer scale of change that has taken place in recent weeks – from extensive government intervention in national economies, to a quarter of the global population being subjected to some form of lifestyle-altering ‘lockdown’.

Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

Recent days have seen growing optimism that the crisis may have passed its peak in several Asian countries including China, as well as much of Europe. Yet numerous countries that previously appeared to have the pandemic under control, from Singapore to South Korea, have once again tightened borders and imposed stricter containment measures given growing concern of new infections “imported” from other parts of the world. 

This has given rise to speculation that rather than seeing a ‘one-off’ lockdown in each country, on which the theory rests that individual countries will ‘bounce back’ from the crisis, there may be need for a number of semi-continuous restrictions—possibly even coordinated multilaterally. While it still remains possible that this rapid ‘bounce-back’ will materialise, several previous ‘corona-consensuses’ have been crushed in recent weeks. Remember that a little over two months ago, for instance, there was a widespread optimistic belief that the virus might be a China-only challenge.

In the immensely volatile times we live in, we must all prepare for the changes that are occurring at this moment, as well as the changes that are yet to come. Here at Quiller we are already working with clients to do this with support functions such as crisis management, scenario planning, and future forecasting. What is already clear from the past two months is that, as and when each country begins its recovery from the crisis, many of today’s commercial processes will be ill-fitting for the reality of tomorrow.

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

What the future holds

While the next steps for organisations depend, in part, on their size, sector and geography, its already clear there will be a major transformation ahead for us all. 

With the future belonging to those organisations that turn crisis into opportunity by embedding agility and resilience, here are just three examples of the key issues many organisations will have to be thinking through.

Reimagining the supply chain

Firstly, the severe fracture of international supply chains, which has resulted from halted business activity across the globe, means it is now the time to rethink lines of production and export finance – how can they be made more resilient? How sufficient are your business partnerships with local producers?

The very economies on which we rely for supplies and export earnings are at risk. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, heavily depend on international trade, which has left the nation exposed in its desperate need for personal protection equipment (PPE) products, medicines and testing kits.

The coming years may well bear witness to a reversal of economic globalisation, therefore, and an ‘onshoring’ which will see a rise in local production.

Photo by ammiel jr on Unsplash

Growing consensus on stakeholder capitalism  

Secondly, the societal response from many businesses to coronavirus has been remarkable. Retailers and manufacturershave repurposed their processes to produce masks and ventilators for local hospitals. In instances where such retooling is not an option, many have made monetary donations to support further medical assistance, charity support, food banks. Some have instituted employee support and engagement programmes, encouraging their workforce to volunteer. Others have joined forces through partnerships to accelerate the development of the coronavirus drug

Building upon the powerful legacy of responsibility this will leave, organisations now need to think of long-term strategy to bring wider stakeholder benefits, beyond a strict focus on shareholder returns. Our new normal effectively echoes the theme of the World Economic Forum at Davos this year: ‘stakeholder capitalism’ and its’ main objective to ‘ensure the long-term preservation and resilience of the company, embedding a company in society’.

The outbreak of coronavirus has only proven that, for business, closer alliances with the government and the public at large are crucial.

Strive for sustainability

Thirdly, one of the few positive by-products of the crisis have been lower CO2 emissions globally. This does not mean organisations can lay on their sustainability laurels. When international travel picks up again and industries re-open the climate change discourse will circle right back round to the doorstep of your business. Net zero will be on the agenda of almost all environmentalists – and the majority of governments, too. The current economic disruption is simply not a sustainable solution – all it does is ‘undercut the engines of innovation that bring us solutions’.

The remainder of 2020 promises to be a landscape of enormous change: will you be ready for it and the future pandemics that are yet to come?


Marta graduated in Anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science, including a period of study in public policy and international business at the University of California, Berkeley, where she gained comprehensive knowledge in intercultural leadership and international relations.  She is a CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) Level 4 Professional Marketer.

What to expect when UK politics comes out of its Covid-19 ‘hibernation’

What to expect when UK politics comes out of its Covid-19 ‘hibernation’

What to expect when UK politics comes out of its Covid-19 'hibernation'

Politics has been seriously strange for the last 9 months, what with a minority-led Boris Johnson government, when parliament was hyperactive (but still utterly ineffectual on Brexit). Then Johnson’s puncturing of the ‘red wall’ in the general election, winning a Conservative majority that was the largest since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 triumph, and Labour being reduced to its lowest representation in the House of Commons since 1935.

Image from: Tetiana Shyshkina on Unsplash

The Tories strutted the stage. Labour went into hibernation (aka a long leadership election). Scotland’s government was, politely, told ‘no’ to requests for a second independence referendum. The new chancellor, the capable Rishi Sunak, banged out what looked like a big (New Tory) budget in the first half of last month.

Then Covid-19 hit the nation.

The Conservative government has since taken some of the most radical measures since Second World War. So far, this has met with high voter-approval ratings. But the science can only take us so far; and scientists, currently, appear to know little more than the rest of us do about this new virus.

We have two counter-factuals: Japan and Sweden, who have cleaved to Johnson’s original instincts of liberal personal freedom and common-sense (good instincts in most circumstances).

Japan has since announced emergency measures. Sweden is rapidly reconsidering.


Image from: Unsplash

Meantime, we have a prime minister in convalescence from a nasty brush with the virus at Chequers, which, from my relatively limited personal experience of being there, is probably the best place you would choose to convalesce.  The service has all the excellent care you would expect from the NHS and all the brilliant efficiency you would expect from our armed forces. Let us hope it is not too long: the nation needs Johnson’s sunny optimism almost as much as it admired the wise and humane words from Our Queen.

And we have a new Labour leader, the ruggedly handsome (asset No. 1) Keir Starmer; who in the words of the leadership of the Jewish community last week, has done more “in four days to cure Labour of the stain of anti-semitism than his predecessor managed in four years” (asset No. 2).  He is also possessed of common sense and a very good tactical mind – just look at the careful composition of his shadow cabinet (asset No. 3). He is also likely to prove a much better parliamentary performer than the prime minister (asset No. 4).

That said, discount asset No. 4 a bit:  William Hague was much better at the dispatch box from 1997 than the-then relatively inexperienced Tony Blair. But it moved the electoral dial in the 2001 election barely a jot. Political nuts like me so enjoy the theatre that we forget that it passes most of the country by.

Assets 1-3 are real and give Starmer a strong base to start from to rebuild Labour as an electoral force. But, as he himself acknowledges, he and his party still “have a mountain to climb”. His disadvantages are at least threefold as he begins this multi-year ascent with the next Westminster ballot unlikely till 2023 or 2024:

  1. The first 100 days of any leadership are an (essential but ill-defined) guide to the leader. Starmer has to do that in what is almost a vacuum while the country remains in hibernation from the virus (though he is trying hard).
  2. His predecessor had no interest in governing the country, but a fanatical interest in controlling the internal machinations of his party. As a result, there is a large number of Labour officers at local, regional and national level who will be a well-placed source of dissent to anything Starmer proposes to improve the party’s electoral position through a more moderate course than Jeremy Corbyn.
  3. Those same people will do all in their power to frustrate Starmer’s attempt to reposition the Labour Party to be more electorally-friendly. He has to do a Stalin-like ‘march through the machine’, while preserving his decent and liberal/ moral socialist instincts.

Yet, he will have some potential open goals in coming weeks:

  1. The government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic (think personal protective equipment, testing, care home treatment etc) has seen the United Kingdom, like several other G20 governments, well ‘behind the curve’ and only just catching up.
  2. Implementation of the ‘big bazooka’ economic measures that the Chancellor has announced will not proceed in their implementation as smoothly as the government hopes.
  3. The economy: the Office for Budget Responsibility on Tuesday announced a forecast, which the chancellor did not deny, of a -35% dip in the economy in Q2 (which is likely) and a 13% year-on-year drop even if the government’s measures work. Recessions tend to ultimately get blamed on incumbent governments, even if they are not their fault.

In short, when we come stumbling like bears from our enforced hibernation, it will be back to: ‘politics: game on!

Dominic joined Quiller in 2015 from Lloyds Banking Group where he was Group Public Affairs Director. He is a former chief of staff at Ofcom, spent eight years in the Prime Minister’s Office, under Lady Thatcher and Sir John Major and was an expert adviser on Digital Britain to Lords’ Mandelson and Carter in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Dominic has extensive experience in regulatory affairs at a national and international level, across financial services, telecommunications and media.