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Will things get better in 2019? Don't expect an improvement anytime soon!

PUBLISHED: 05:30 03 January 2019

Shoppers did come out to Ipswich town centre - but there hasn't been the frenzy we've sometimes seen in the past as consumer confidence takes a dive. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Shoppers did come out to Ipswich town centre - but there hasn't been the frenzy we've sometimes seen in the past as consumer confidence takes a dive. Picture: PAUL GEATER

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The start of a new year should be the chance to look ahead at a brighter future - and to anticipate good things to come.

Politicians' inability to agree a deal over Brexit have led to a slump in consumer confidence which has damaged the economy.Politicians' inability to agree a deal over Brexit have led to a slump in consumer confidence which has damaged the economy.

I wish I felt that way at the start of 2019. On a personal level it’s a bit difficult to imagine a more lousy year than the one that has just ended – and I am really hopeful that I can put my health issues to one side this year.

But in the world of politics, both local and national, and so far as the economy is concerned, I’m afraid I can’t see anything but more pain in 2019.

Brexit is now less than three months away. As someone who voted to remain, and would do so again if given the chance, I find this very sad – but I accept it is the will of a (small) majority of those who voted in June 2016.

Whether they really wanted us to crash out of the EU without a deal – forcing us to scrabble together ad hoc trading arrangements before anything permanent can be established, I really don’t know.

I suspect the vast majority of leave voters in the referendum didn’t give a thought to what might happen afterwards. They just didn’t like the idea of foreigners having any say in the way we conducted our affairs.

I can understand the intellectual point of such reasoning, even if I think it is misguided.

But just remember every time the country signs a treaty with a foreign government – whether it is to be a member of NATO, signing an international commitment to cut greenhouse gases, or a trade deal – it is diluting our sovereignty. We then have to act within the parameters of that treaty.

As things stand we will crash out of the EU without a deal. I can’t see any alternative. Mrs May’s deal isn’t going to get the support of her Tory critics – and even if one or two opposition MPs do back it, there won’t be anywhere near a majority for it to pass.

I can’t see MPs cobbling together any other deal that would be acceptable to other EU members before March 29 – and I cannot see the government allowing the withdrawal date from the EU being put back.

And for those who dream of a second referendum. Do you really think you can organise one, get the question(s) on it agreed, get the legislation through parliament, and get a result all before B-Day March 29? It might be a nice idea but let’s connect with the real world!

So I remain convinced that, however disastrous it proves to be for the economy, we’ll leave without a deal – and I’m not the only one.

I’m sure this pessimism about the future has led to the most stagnant Christmas on our high streets and even among online traders that we have seen for a decade. You have to go back to the winter of 2008/9 when we lost Zavvi and Woolworths over the Christmas period to see such carnage on the high street.

There are a myriad of reasons for all this. But the underlying issue is a lack of consumer confidence. We simply don’t know how much money we’ll have in our bank accounts in a few months time and we don’t want to spend any that we don’t have to.

I’ve been talking to people from businesses in central Ipswich and the message I’m getting is that Christmas has been better than other times of the year for them – but there hasn’t been the spending frenzy we normally see during the festive season.

We’ve already seen HMV call in the administrators for the second time in a decade which is very worrying – its presence on the high street is vital – but I have an uneasy feeling that it won’t be the only big name to call in administrators over the next few months.

Both Debenhams and M&S have hinted darkly that they will be announcing store closures early this year. Hopefully this region will escape any cull but right now I do have difficulty in looking towards the future with much optimism.

I know Ipswich better than anywhere else, so I’ll use that as an example – but the lessons here are as relevant to many other towns and cities across the country.

There are still dozens of empty units in the town centre. More than two years after it closed BHS is still boarded up – there is no sign of any redevelopment work. There are empty units in both the Buttermarket and Sailmakers. The Old Post Office is still looking for a new occupier and Poundworld and Maplin are unoccupied.

All in all, it’s difficult to see any signs of economic optimism when our politicians seem obsessed with finding the best way of ruining our economy!

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