Brexit mess, bank branch closures inevitable: Ian McConnell

Both have given rise to much concern in recent years.

And each of them had something of a sad inevitability about it.

The two subjects formed the basis of my columns in the Herald last week.

The saga of bank branch closures reared its ugly head again with the announcement late last month by Virgin Money, which has acquired the Clydesdale Bank division, that it would be closing almost a third of its branch network in the UK. The forthcoming closure of 39 branches will leave Virgin Money at just 91.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: This humiliation for Brexiteers is certainly good for everyone else

In recent years there have been many heated debates about store closures, even if the numbers involved are very small.

However, it seems to have been a while since the passion for this great subject has evaporated. With the exception of a few voices such as the Unite union and some consumer advocates, apathy now seems to be the order of the day when it comes to the announcement of store closures.

Banks used to seem almost embarrassed to announce branch closures, and indeed seemed very concerned about a possible backlash from political circles and customers. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case now.

Yes, the visitor frequency has decreased in branches. However, that doesn’t make them any less valuable to those who still need them, for a variety of reasons.

Apparently, the main concern is the costs for the banks. And branch closures should certainly not be presented as customer service.

The big problem now is that it is ubiquitous for the big banks to close branches, making customers less likely to vote with their feet to push the big players into changing their behavior.

As far as Brexit is concerned, there was at least one change of attitude, albeit small, on the part of the Conservative government last week.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Closing new bank branches is a nightmare for Scottish cities

While this change appeared to be forced by reality, given the narrow-minded tendencies of the pro-Brexit government who dominate the Conservative government in Westminster, it was not a given for companies or anyone else.

The Department for Business and Trade announced on Tuesday that recognition of the Conformité Européene (CE) safety mark in the UK for most goods will be extended indefinitely beyond the final deadline of December 2024.

So far, it has been the intention of this Conservative government that recognition of the CE mark in Great Britain will end soon after the country’s exit from the single European market and only the UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) certification will be accepted.

The list of goods for which the CE mark has been extended indefinitely by the Ministry of Economy and Trade is extensive.

READ MORE: Denials after denials from ironclad Tory arch-Brexiter

The drop comes amid serious concerns from businesses that time is running out for the tried and trusted CE mark.

There is no doubt that the relegation, which is sure to be another embarrassment for Brexiteers, is most welcome for everyone else.

Less welcome was the Conservative government’s attempt to claim that it had done something very positive, rather than merely staving off the suffering of which it was clearly the cause.

Of course, this dishonest behavior of the Tories fits well with the adage “Some things never change”.

We have seen many such behaviors by Conservatives since 2016.

The setbacks and pullbacks have unfortunately been too rare, but where they have happened they have been accompanied by plenty of excitement as conservative Brexiteers have refused to take responsibility for the huge problems they have caused.

The turn of events this week, when the CE marking downgrade was announced, was somewhat remarkable even compared to the current Conservative class.

The Department for Business and Trade said: “The Business Secretary has acted urgently on this matter to prevent a pivotal moment in December 2024 when UKCA was due to join.” This intervention will ensure that businesses are no longer faced with uncertainty about regulations and unnecessary costs can be eliminated, allowing them to focus on innovation and growth.”

The uncertainty was created by the Conservatives.

And cliff edges, or the threat of them, are indeed a Tory hallmark and seem to have been more or less ubiquitous since the Brexit vote.

Do you remember when Lord David Frost negotiated Brexit with the European Union in what was surely an unnecessarily aggressive style? Since resigning from his government duties, Lord Frost has arguably attracted even more attention with his outspoken views on key issues, including his comments on global warming last month.

The logic of the Conservatives last week was bizarre. It was they who insisted on, pursued and pushed through a hard Brexit. As a result, it has been decided that the CE marking on goods placed on the UK market will no longer be recognized from the end of next year. This led to great uncertainty among companies. And now the Conservative government says its “intervention” will ensure companies “no longer face uncertainty about the regulations”. But to reiterate, the Tories in power created the uncertainty in the first place.

Not for the first time, Brexit is giving the UK a real Alice-in-Wonderland feeling.

Grace Reader

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