It’s obvious the Brexit debate has hit an impasse. Both Parliament and the country at large are split on how to move forwards, writes Ewan MacDonald-Russell.
Indicative votes have only shown the lack of consensus on the next steps. Whilst that process has developed, politicians have made increasingly strident claims and become less willing to compromise. That’s led to parliamentary gridlock and political paralysis.
For businesses, this is met with a degree of incredulity. We were relieved the calamity of a no-deal exit from the EU was delayed with the extension announced in March. But there are enormous concerns this grace period is being frittered away by posturing and politicking.
Because the fundamentals haven’t changed. Leaving the EU without a deal would be harmful to the whole of the UK, regressively hurting the least affluent the most. Losing the ability to trade without friction and tariffs with the EU would lead to higher prices, lower availability, and potentially a reduced range of goods – especially for food and drink products.
A failure to agree a deal would also unleash these problems at perhaps the worst time of year. Retailers will be preparing for Christmas, stretching already limited warehousing capacity, and the UK will be importing the majority of its fresh food from the EU, magnifying the impact of border delays.
Theresa May’s resignation is recognition she is unable to break the deadlock. However, no matter the personality or the rhetoric, the next Prime Minister will face the same truths.
We need a solution which maintains the essential tariff-and-friction-free trade with EU which currently delivers for consumers. Just as crucially, we need clarity on that solution quickly. Businesses are currently devoting enormous resources to planning for a no-deal Brexit. That affects investment and drives economic uncertainty.
That uncertainty also affects government. The relentless focus on Brexit means ministers are ignoring bread and butter issues at home.
Just in our industry, retailers face incredible challenges from a poisonous cocktail of ever-increasing costs from business rates to the Apprenticeship Levy. The consequences of that can sadly be seen on high streets across the UK where businesses are under immense pressure. Action is swiftly needed.
The next Prime Minister will face a daunting task. A quick resolution of the Brexit stalemate. Real action to lessen the burden on businesses – especially retailers. And a renewed focus on driving economic growth.
Let’s hope they are up to the job.
Ewan MacDonald-Russell is head of policy at the Scottish Retail Consortium