World Economic Forum in Davos is a less starry affair this year

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The Promenade is the road that runs through the heart of Davos in Switzerland.

Its most prominent building is the Belvedere Hotel, and right across the front of the Belvedere is a banner saying: “Free Trade is Great”.

It could almost be the slogan for the whole World Economic Forum, a gathering that unashamedly backs globalisation and a more integrated world.

But, in fact, the banner was put there by the British Government.

For some here, it looks like a curious paradox – the nation that wants to leave the world’s biggest trading bloc putting up a giant banner proclaiming its love of free trade.

For others, it is, presumably, a sign of how Britain wants to trade with the whole world, not just Europe.

In Davos, as everywhere, the future shape of Brexit seems unclear.

The International Monetary Fund’s latest forecast is based on the assumption that Britain leaves Europe with a well-rounded agreement, but is full of warnings about uncertainty.

“A no-deal Brexit is one of the major risks to our forecast,” said the IMF’s chief economist, Gita Gopinath.

But Brexit is not the only cloud.

China’s economy is slowing at its fastest rate for decades, the United States is in unpredictable mood as a trade war looms, and some of Europe’s giant economies – notably Germany and Italy – face predictions of economic slowdown.

Away from the hubbub, I chatted with one of Europe’s brightest young executives.

Michal Krupinski is the chief executive of Bank Pekao, the biggest commercial bank in Poland.

He has previously worked for the World Bank in Brussels, the Polish government and Bank of America.

He is an amenable, friendly man, but one who worries about the year to come.

“We are worried about Brexit, we are worried about slowdown in China and the effect of that. We are worried about Italy.

“What you now have with Brexit is a blame game. If I had been in charge of an event like Brexit, I would have had to resign.

“And obviously I haven’t seen any resignations in Brussels, which means there’s a lack of accountability.

“I think the time is to act now. What everyone needs is some sort of eye-opening event.

“When people realise that it’s having an effect on the economy, then they’ll act.

“Uncertainty is very bad for taking decisions.”

In 2019, Davos does seem to be beset with unanswered questions, and by some trepidation.

Last year’s cast list included Donald Trump, Theresa May, Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron and Narendra Modi.

This year, it is a less starry affair.

Trump, May and Macron all withdrew in order to concentrate on domestic crises, each of them embroiled in a tide of global politics becoming ever more shaped by populism.

Whether that is Brexit, the row over Trump’s wall or the wave of industrial disruption across France, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Davos view of a global, internationalised world has taken something of a beating.

(c) Sky News 2019: World Economic Forum in Davos is a less starry affair this year

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