LONDON, United Kingdom — These are unprecedented times in the world of UK politics. In the 2016 referendum vote, the British public was asked a simple yes-or-no question about their desire to stay in the EU. In an almost-precursor to the US elections, all polls were cast aside and — by a small majority — the British public voted to leave.
The terms on which we should leave were never asked. The risks were poorly explained. For those whose businesses are so intrinsically linked with territories in the EU and benefit from its international trade treaties, the result was a shock, an incomparable misunderstanding and a denial of all the good that industries like fashion have seen for so many years thanks to EU membership.
As part of the EU, businesses have prospered, the global nature of our industry made easier by having such close and easy trading, IP arrangements and access to talent with our member-state neighbours. The UK’s reputation for being global, open and forward-thinking was synonymous with its fashion industry, a valuable reputation we have fought hard to retain.
For the past three years, the British Fashion Council has worked behind the scenes with civil servants and the wider industry to spell out the challenges ahead and make the case for a focus on our industry in any deal negotiation, with an understanding of the potential unintended negative consequences of prioritising other sectors’ needs in trade talks.
We have found the civil service to be collaborative and eager to understand our industry’s challenges. However, as ministers change — and they so often have over the past few years — so do their teams, meaning that we have recounted the same information several times to ensure that the current administration is up to speed with the needs of an industry that, at last count, contributed £32 billion to the British economy and employed 890,000 people.
The promises of the 2016 referendum regarding any potential for a deal with the EU appear to have been impossible to deliver.
The current Government’s all-in, high-stakes roll for a better deal or no deal by October 31 plays out day by day, and the landscape may well have changed again by the time this is published. We have seen the Government lose the majority in Parliament, 21 Conservative MPs lose the Whip, one Cabinet minister resign from post, the Benn Bill pass into law, the speaker of the House resign and Parliament enter prorogation.
The promises of the 2016 referendum regarding any potential for a deal with the EU appear to have been impossible to deliver. The extended negotiations, talks and deadlines have left the UK, as well as our international business partners, in limbo.
It is hardly surprising that we are constantly asked by businesses: “What does this mean? What should we do?” Our answer is that all businesses should take a proactive approach to understanding the potential implications of No Deal. Although the Benn Bill, in theory, means that a no-deal Brexit is not the prerogative of the UK Government, we have been advised to ensure that businesses are still prepared.
The potential impact of Brexit on the industry is significant. The impact alone of WTO tariffs on UK fashion exports is £870m; the knock-on effect this will have on costs is just one of the challenges businesses need to address. From sampling to EORI numbers and carnets, moving goods back and forth will not just have a financial impact but will also be time-intensive. An IP health-check in the context of exiting the EU is advised, and the British Fashion Council has been charged with looking at unregistered design rights to ensure that these rights are protected within the EU.
Access to talent is already an issue faced by businesses, but ensuring that employees with an EU passport register for the right to remain is a priority that will give you and them peace of mind. These are just the main priorities and more comprehensive advice can be found on our website.
Beyond politics, we hope that visitors will remain as inspired as we are open to collaborate and trade with all markets.
As we go into London Fashion Week, the October 31 deadline is on the minds of all British fashion businesses, especially as collections sold this September will be delivered to stores post-end of October. Among the key concerns are: the forecast impact of a WTO deal, the preparation for goods in transit over that period and, of course, the import of fabrics and goods, as the delivery cycle in fashion stops for no-one. In February, the classification of samples may mean operating in a new way; collections won’t be able to be delivered overnight to Paris after London Fashion Week, so early shipping will be essential to ensure they arrive in time.
Whatever the challenges ahead, the British Fashion Council will continue to remain close to what is happening and provide evidence to Government, working in partnership with UK Fashion & Textiles to ensure that the industry is represented.
What we ask of Government remains the same: that the UK’s fashion and textile industries, which are significant employers and large contributors to the British economy, have access to talent, finance and competitive trade agreements that will enable them to thrive and play a part in this country’s narrative by being at the forefront of creativity, innovation and business.
Over the five days of London Fashion Week, I have no doubt there will be much debate and speculation around what is next for the UK. It will also be poignant for many that this could be London’s last Fashion Week within the EU, highlighting the freedoms that have been enjoyed and the uncertainty the future holds. Beyond politics, we hope that visitors will remain as inspired as we are open to collaborate and trade with all markets, especially the EU.
The Prime Minister and his cabinet’s next moves are yet to be seen, but the power of political protest is likely to show as we approach the next EU Council on October 17 and 18 , with October 19 being the deadline to ask for an extension.
Did the PM say he’d rather resign than extend? What comes then, the Queen forced to ask another party leader to be caretaker PM? Then, we assume, a general election – although if politics has taught us anything over the past three years, it’s that we shouldn’t assume anything.