As politicians argue over Theresa May’s take it or leave it deal with the EU, we are still largely unclear what type of Brexit – if any – we will be living with.
It’s clear, though, that Brexit will have a profound impact on both our personal and business lives – if it hasn’t already. Whichever side you sit on, whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, it’s unlikely things will ever be the same again.
Which got us thinking…
What other events in British history changed everything?
What are the moments in politics, culture or technology that set our history on a different course?
And, to bring it all back, who were the winners and losers in the business world?
The 1960’s: The Beatles take over
We’ll start with a fun one. The Beatles can rightly claim to be the most successful music group of all time but their influence reaches so much further. Not only did they change the musical landscape, paving the way for the British Invasion of the USA, the concept album, and music video, they were at the epicentre of the sweeping cultural and social changes that transformed Britain in the 1960s.
When the boys from Liverpool first broke the charts with Love Me Do in 1962, Britain was still very much marked by the two world wars. Society was steeped in the traditions and morals of the Victorian era. By 1970, the year of the Beatle’s breakup, society had shifted towards embracing more progressive attitudes on everything from fashion to politics – and let’s not forget sex and drugs. Richie Unterberger of Allmusic.com puts it best: “Relentlessly imaginative and experimental, the Beatles grabbed hold of the international mass consciousness in 1964 and never let go for the next six years.”
Before the Beatles, only three British acts had topped the charts in the US. By the end of the decade, “the sixties belonged to Britain”. Today, the UK music industry is one of its most successful exports, no doubt spearheaded by the successes of these early pop trailblazers. The UK may not be a world power like it once was, but this era showed that it could still be a cultural force.
And let’s not forget The Beatles empowering impact on real people. The ideals of individual expression and experimentation championed by The Beatles and the hippie movement have had a marked influence on entrepreneurs everywhere from the tech industry (see Steve Jobs) to the food industry (see Ben & Jerry’s).
“Guitar groups are on the way out.” Those are legendary words of Decca Records, perhaps the most infamous, but one of many record labels who turned down The Beatles.
The 1970s: The UK enters the European Common Market
OK, now, a contentious one. For the first 30 years following the end of the Second World War, the UK was on the fringes of European integration. Torn between its ties to the United States and its Empire-turned-Commonwealth, many UK politicians, including Winston Churchill, were initially resistant or just disinterested towards joining the European Union (or the European Economic Community as it was known then). Membership was put to a referendum vote in 1975. This was at a time when the French and German economies were booming and the UK was known as the “sick man of Europe”. With a huge majority, the UK public said yes to membership, beginning 40 years of ever-closening political and economic ties with Europe. Until, of course, 2016.
There are strong arguments to say the UK has benefitted economically from being a member of the European Union. Indeed, 71% of CBI members felt the EU has had an overall positive impact on their business, including 67% of SME members.
There’s no doubting EU membership shifted power from Westminster to Brussels. Much of EU regulation, particularly in relation to farming and fishing, is deeply unpopular, whilst immigration has become a hugely contentious topic. Businesses, too, claim to face more ‘red tape’ as a result of regulations from Brussels. Whether this will improve post-Brexit is open to debate.