The British Retail Consortium has increased its pressure on the government to ensure import tariffs are kept low once the UK leaves the European Union.
BRC chairman Richard Baker has written to international trade secretary Liam Fox urging him to put the needs of consumers at the heart of his Brexit strategy, and by extension do everything in his power to support retailers to keep costs low.
The organisation has launched a Brexit campaign, which focuses on three key issues: the cost headwinds facing retailers; the uncertainty facing EU nationals residing and working in the UK; and the need for domestic legislation and regulation that will promote growth.
Baker, who took over as BRC chairman in September, pointed out that retail margins have already been squeezed, so there is no room to absorb added costs from import tariffs and administrative fees. As such, retailers could be forced to pass any new costs on to consumers.
If the UK falls back on World Trade Organisation rules, the average duty on clothing and footwear could be between 11% and 16%, the BRC said. Brexit could present an opportunity to reduce the costs of international trade outside of the EU, but this could take several years.
“The overall goal of the campaign is to ensure the UK government strikes a fair deal for consumers in its exit negotiations with the EU,” the BRC said. “We strongly believe this will lead to the fairest settlement for our country as a whole.”
It is also campaigning for the government the end the uncertainty facing EU workers in the UK.
The UK retail industry employs approximately 120,000 EU nationals. “They deserve early reassurance that they will still be welcome here, whatever Brexit may bring,” the BRC said.
Last weekend, government ministers appeared to backtrack on plans to make UK companies reveal how many foreign workers they employ.
Home secretary Amber Rudd was criticised after suggesting employers would have to “be clear” about the international make-up of their workforce, as part of a drive to encourage them to hire locally.
But defence secretary Michael Fallon and education secretary Justine Greening later insisted that any data collected would be used to improve investment in skills training, and names would not be made public.