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Fashion industry puts brave face on May's Brexit plan

The fashion retail industry has urged prime minister Theresa May to steer an orderly exit from the European Union, ensuring British businesses are not hit with high trade tariffs.

Theresa May's Brexit speech

Theresa May’s Brexit speech

Source: Rex Features

Setting out the parameters of the Brexit negotiations yesterday, May confirmed that the UK will leave the European single market and pursue a “bold and ambitious” free trade agreement with the EU.

May vowed to phase in the Brexit changes to give businesses time to adjust. She confirmed that the proposed deal will be put to a vote in both the House of Lords and House of Commons.

Responding to the speech, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The prime minister has an ambitious plan with the right priorities.”

However, she cautioned: ”It is crucial that Britain gets a new deal that works for ordinary British consumers, which doesn’t hit them with the costs of new import tariffs at a time when the pound is already weakened.

“The number one priority for an orderly exit should be to allow all goods traded between the EU and the UK to be in free circulation.”

Daniel Rubin, founder and chairman of footwear chain Dune Group, welcomed the clarity on May’s Brexit agenda, but warned against “throwing the baby out with the bath water” and ending up with a bad deal.

Now we have voted to leave, which I was against, I can see the advantage of not trying to end up with a deal that is a bit of this and a bit of that, but we do need to be aware of the risks, particularly in terms of custom rates and duties.”

Adam Mansell, chief executive of the UK Fashion & Textile Association, praised elements of the prime minister’s speech, such as her focus on agreeing the status of EU nationals currently in the UK and ensuring continued access to skilled workers from the EU.

But he warned that the delivery of a tariff-free trade deal with the EU would be “a huge task”.

The value of sterling jumped sharply after the speech on Tuesday, but this did little to assuage concerns about the future impact of currency fluctuations on pricing.

Sarah Watkinson-Yull, owner and founder of UK-based women’s footwear brand Yull Shoes, said:We produce in the UK, so we’re benefiting from the weakness of sterling for our exports. But we buy leather in euros, so our cost of raw materials has gone up. Custom duties with other markets are also completely up in the air. 

“Export accounts for more than half of our wholesale sales and a quarter of retail, so it is a big challenge for us. We’ll keep prices the same for the moment and reassess later in the year.”

Fiona Oakes, brand manager at UK accessories brand Penrose London, added: “We have kept our prices the same as although our costs have gone up, the pound has gone down. We’ll see how everyone reacts. We export 80% of our products so this is a huge deal for us.”

Mansell argued that support for exporters should be a priority: “If the UK is to become the international trading nation the prime minister hopes for, the government needs to do significantly more to help our companies export.

“Currently the government hasn’t even agreed what level of export support there will be post-March this year. We need the government’s support to access new markets, to show that the UK is open for business.”

Theresa May’s Brexit objectives

  1. Provide certainty about the process of leaving the EU
  2. Control of our own laws
  3. Strengthen the union between the four nations of the United Kingdom
  4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland
  5. Control of immigration coming from the EU
  6. Rights for EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU
  7. Protect workers’ rights
  8. Pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU
  9. New trade agreements with other countries
  10. Become the best place for science and innovation
  11. Co-operate with European allies in the fight against crime and terrorism
  12. A phased process of implementation

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