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Next’s Lord Wolfson warns over ‘hard’ Brexit

Next chief executive Lord Simon Wolfson has warned the government against taking a hard-line approach to Brexit and has urged ministers to keep hold of free trade and free movement of people.

Wolfson, who publicly supported the leave campaign in the run up to the EU referendum, criticised some restrictive policies proposed by the government in a Bloomberg Television interview.

“I don’t think it’s about numbers, I think it’s about the quality of people that we get,” said Wolfson.

“Ultimately if people are coming here and they’re prepared to work hard, contribute to our economy, pay their taxes, obey our laws, learn our language, then those people are actively contributing to our economy and it would be an enormous mistake for us to cut ourselves off from some of the world’s best and brightest out of principle.”

He added that free trade must be a priority in negotiations: “The argument for free trade needs to be made in every generation because it’s not intuitive. People think, someone’s selling us something and somehow they’re doing us damage, of course, they’re not, we’re getting a benefit from them and of course we’re selling them things as well.”

He continued: “When you listen to the trade secretary talking, the Brexit secretary talking, they are very much in favour of free trade, everything they’re saying is very much in favour of free trade and I think there is an enormous opportunity for free trade.”

Wolfson said the UK fashion industry needs to brace itself for a “tough” 2017, as consumers are increasingly spending on leisure activities rather than clothing, and prices are going up.

“We’re definitely seeing a cyclical shift. There are lots of new places to spend your money, new restaurants and media and those sectors have all been hugely innovative over the last year, so we shouldn’t be surprised by that. These cycles never go on forever, but they will persist as least through next year. So I think clothing needs to prepare itself for a tough year.”

The retailer reiterated that prices at Next would go up 5% next year in a “worst-case” scenario following the depreciation of the pound. 

Lord Simon Wolfson

Lord Simon Wolfson

Lord Simon Wolfson, chairman of Next

“I would expect [prices increases] to begin to come through January next year and really that inflationary bubble will last all year but It’s not likely to affect retail anything like as much as the devaluation of the pound. I think we’ll be able to mitigate most of the currency fall by looking for cheaper sources of supply but we’re still looking at prices rises around 4-5%.”

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