Brexit shambles continues to frustrate Retailers

At the start of this week, there were hopes and expectations that the fog surrounding Brexit would clear up. Despite a number of meetings, press coverage and of course the voting, are we any clearer on the current situation or the next steps? Do we know which business scenarios we need to plan for? Most worryingly, are we clear on how much time we have to plan this?

So what has actually been decided this week? Parliament voted against both the PM’s deal and No Deal proposals. Instead, they have asked the PM to go back and ask for a short extension, for a new exit date. This proposal could still be declined by the EU, they do not have to accept it, but we hope for everyone’s sake that they do accept it. Till then, we are still in limbo.

On Friday I wanted to get some feedback from business owners on how better or worse they feel. I reached out to the Midlands Retail community and wasn’t surprised that the general feeling was that this week we had lost more time and further reduced confidence that this matter being handled appropriately. 50% of the people who completed our survey felt less confident today than they did at the start of the week.

People are generally fed up. Many have given up hope of being given direction or being led, by their leaders.

The concerns are not only about Leave or Remain, but the concerns are also ‘What is the absolute date’ and ‘what is the decision. Pro-Leave politicians talked about setting up deals elsewhere outside of the EU. If decisions had been made sooner, it would have given some businesses the chance to put new deals in place. Speaking to a retailer in Birmingham, her biggest problem was the possible impact on her supply chain;

‘I import my goods from China, they are shipped by UPS via Germany. I am a small business owner who works on a 2-week stock turnaround and not sure what to expect.’

We all know that a buoyant economy is linked to happy people; last summer a positive world cup and good weather led to a good amount of money being spent. Since the start of the year, the headlines are consistently depressing, between knife crime and Brexit, the mood is depressing. This is further hindering any growth in the economy.

People are concerned about their jobs, the state of the economy and social issues, all of which have an impact on how much they are willing or able to spend. Concerns include;

‘What’s going to happen with jobs?’

‘Is the cost of living and food going up?’

‘Ability to acquire essential medicines and equipment’

Once a Brexit deal is agreed, we still need to get the legalities, taxation and import/export processes in place. Could we see a ‘Check-point Charlie’ style border control being put into place? Could we see goods being held at borders or in transit to the UK? Will we be competitive against cheaper foreign imports, that will not be subject to import tariffs or controls?

With much still to do, it seems that we are at the start of yet another big week, we are again waiting for some clarity. We expect the PM to go back to the European Council and ask for a short extension and she will need all countries to agree. If not, we could still crash out on the 29th of March.

Don’t be surprised if all options are still on the table next week.

Don’t be surprised if she tries another time to get Parliament to accept her deal, and don’t be surprised if she loses, again.

In fact, don’t be surprised at all if next Friday we are still missing clarity and businesses are left to wonder what next.