The fashion industry has called for the government “to start listening” to businesses after prime minister Theresa May announced she will consult companies further as part of her Brexit “Plan B”’.
After her initial Brexit deal was overwhelmingly rejected by parliament last week – by a majority of 230 – May was forced to present with an alternative proposal.
Under “Plan B”, May has said she will meet with businesses, MPs, trade unions and civil society representatives to develop proposals so that she can try and find the “broadest consensus” for the next phase of negotiations on leaving the European Union.
Retailers and industry bodies have told Drapers the government has been talking to businesses since the Brexit referendum result and should have already taken their input on board, adding that “it’s time they started to listen.”
Adam Mansell, chief executive of UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT), said businesses are “desperate for certainty”: “Businesses have been pressing the government for clarity on trading arrangements, customs procedures and all the rest pretty much since the day after the referendum. UKFT has had many meetings with ministers and civil servants, as well as giving evidence at two select committees. The government set up a committee with leading business organisations and in November last year the prime minister announced a series of five business councils to advise on Brexit. Businesses have been talking to government – it’s time they started to listen.”
John Saunders, chief executive of the British Footwear Association, agreed: “I think it is too late to ask businesses for their input – they have already given their direction. The government needs to sort out the current trading situation because at the moment it’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Europe is big for footwear companies, and where the future of the country lies will affect future investment decisions. We need clarity for businesses. We need a firm decision.”
The managing director of one high street chain said: “May has already been talking to businesses since the referendum result was announced. However, what works for some businesses doesn’t work for all businesses, so now is her chance to find the right balance in this short amount of time. I remain optimistic because people in Europe have to trade together, and businesses have to try and ignore the scaremongering tactics.”
One department store source said: “It’s a positive thing that the government will be talking to businesses. However small-to-medium-sized businesses don’t have the resources to make contingency plans for every eventuality. We cannot possibly plan ahead. Businesses are as uncertain as before about what the outcome will be – it is not clear at all.”
Richard Lim, chief executive at analyst Retail Economics, echoed these concerns: “The government needs to create certainty for businesses. Businesses need clarity about what is going to unfold. With regards to Plan B, the government has been talking to businesses throughout the process. For example, the manufacturing industry is very engaged, but discussions with retailers have not been as transparent or conducive.”
The government tabled an amendable motion on 21 January that will be voted on by MPs on 29 January, before being negotiated with the EU and then voted on again by the UK parliament next month.
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