Brexit should be delayed to allow businesses time to recover from the effects of Covid-19, retailers have told Drapers.
The transition period for the UK negotiate terms to leave the European Union began on 31 January and is due to expire at the end of 2020, although it can be extended by one or two years, if both parties agree to an extension by 30 June.
However, Michael Gove, minister for the Cabinet Office, told MPs on the House of Commons Brexit committee yesterday that the hard deadline would not be changed. Despite disruption to the negotiations caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Gove said a trade deal with the EU by 31 December was “entirely possible”.
Retailers have called on the government to change its mind and delay Brexit to allow businesses time to recover from the crisis.
The managing director of a footwear retailer told Drapers: “I cannot see how we can be negotiating to the best of our ability when nobody can go anywhere. Can they do this over Zoom or Microsoft Teams, really?
“This is an exceptional time. Let’s get through coronavirus first – it’s not disappearing overnight. And let’s delay Brexit by a year.”
An managing director of an accessories retailer agreed: “Brexit should be delayed. Everything is delayed now: buying, purchasing, everything. Businesses are not going to go back to 100% straight away.
“I think the effect [of Covid-19] will go into 2021 because the focus across markets, businesses and government has suddenly been changed, and has pinpointed on a certain challenge. How do you start addressing everything around Brexit when you’ve [just] come out of Covid-19?”
Andrew Goodacre, CEO of BIRA (the British Independent Retailers Association), said he could see “no way” the original timetable could be maintained: “I would urge both parties to discuss a meaningful plan once we are free of this pandemic.”
Adam Mansell, CEO of the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT), agreed: “As all parts of the industry are reeling from the sudden and dramatic impact of the coronavirus, with thousands and thousands of staff being furloughed, hundreds of millions of pounds of orders being cancelled and companies on the brink of collapse, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit at the end of the year is frightening.
“To allow the industry time to recover from the current situation, we urge the government to extend the transition period as quickly as possible.”
The CEO of a high street brand disagreed: “Covid-19 and Brexit are completely separate.
“Brexit needs to continue to conclude as Mr Gove outlined. Politicians need to divide and work hard to complete the work just like a responsible enterprise would be called to do.”
As Brexit talks resumed last week, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, accused the UK of not engaging with discussions on “fundamental issues”.
Others in the industry have called on the government to prioritise key issues in these talks, such as zero-tariffs and supply chains.
William Bain, trade policy adviser at the British Retail Consortium, said: “We urge both negotiating teams to resolve their differences and focus on the big picture of what can be achieved – zero-tariffs on qualifying goods and preserving key UK-EU supply chains with as few new barriers as possible on customs, transit, safety and security, and border and regulatory checks on goods. That is the best way to reach a fair deal for consumers.”
The footwear retailer chief added: “My priorities are the import situation, duties, taxes and ease of getting through ports. Essentially, how am I going to get my goods into the country?”
The British Retail Consortium has already called for zero-tariffs to be prioritised in a Brexit deal.
Drapers has contacted the prime minister’s office for comment.