10427 The Retailer Autumn 2018_Final Draft Pages

NEWS FROM THE BRC Nearly out of time – Brexit deal for consumers needed now

William Bain Policy Advisor , Europe and International British Retail Consortium

A DEAL TO SECURE BREXIT TRANSITION IS WITHIN REACH. POLITICIANS SHOULDN’T LET IT SLIP THROUGH THEIR FINGERS IN THE COMING WEEKS. The ticking clock is nearly out of time altogether. The Article 50 process to negotiate an orderly path from EU membership was initiated by the PM in April 2017. One general election, two Brexit Cabinet resignations, over 80 UK Government technical notices and No Deal, and several policy u-turns later, the few weeks remaining in the process must deliver a deal for retailers and consumers, and for both the UK and European Parliaments to endorse and begin to implement the deal. Zero tariffs with EU would be replaced by MFN tariffs, with rates on cheddar 47%, beef 42% and tomatoes 28%. Zero tariffs with EU would be replaced by MFN tariffs, with rates on cheddar 47%, beef 42% and tomatoes 28% All of this would be compounded by the problems for retailers in Northern Ireland, or serving consumers in that market, with a hard trading border, hitting the processing, haulage and preparation of goods from Bailey’s Irish cream to ready meals. In order to avert this disaster, the BRC is calling upon both sides in the negotiations to agree an acceptable form of backstop on the Irish border that will pave the way for a Withdrawal Agreement providing long-term stability and certainty in trading conditions across the UK and Ireland. We were among the first business organisations to make the practical and economic case for a standstill transition period – keeping trading terms just as they are now – for a reasonable period after exit day next March. To get the security of that transition – whether 21 months or however long is necessary – a backstop must be agreed in the coming weeks. No backstop, no orderly exit, and a cliff-edge Brexit with hugely damaging impacts upon our industry and millions of consumers. That is how high the stakes are this month and in November.

Delays at ports would cause a logistical nightmare for retailers and consumers as haulage became scarce and far more expensive Any agreement will take time to implement. MPs at Westminster will have their say in the meaningful vote process following any deal struck in Brussels. The Withdrawal Agreement must be formally ratified. The EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill will need to be passed in both House of Parliament, providing the legal basis in the UK for the transition period, citizens’ rights and future payments to the EU. That in itself could take around 8 weeks. There may be some delegated legislation which has to be made, notwithstanding the standstill application of existing and future EU rules made during the transition period. The European Parliament has important committee enquiries and votes, not to mention the vote by the plenary chamber on any agreement in mid-March. All of this takes time. In a difficult retail climate, every second of delay between now and December means investment opportunities foregone by UK retailers, and money being spent on contingency planning which may never be recouped. The officials from both negotiating teams are working incredibly hard, but the politicians need to give them the breathing space to make a deal, and one that will work for retailers and consumers. It’s time to leave ideology or rigid interpretations on what the Brexit vote meant behind. Consumers are increasingly savvy but hard-pressed on their finances. They simply can’t afford the chaos and higher costs of a No Deal Brexit. The retail industry stands united behind their interests. We now need a deal which keeps goods and services flowing, which may not deal with every aspect of the future relationship between the UK and EU on trading terms now, but one which provides the certainty of an agreed transition. That’s the prize in the coming days and weeks – politics mustn’t see it slip from the consumer’s grasp.

the retailer | autumn 2018 | 9

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