Analysis

We will suffer most from Brexit, claim small retailers at People’s Vote event

An event last week brought together business leaders big and small to back a new campaign for a second referendum on the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The launch event for the Business for a People’s Vote campaign featured the likes of Sir Mike Rake, former president of the CBI and former chairman of BT, Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer and Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks. The panellists argued about the damage that exiting the EU would cause to businesses and criticised the 2016 referendum as illegitimate.

The campaign envisages UK citizens being offered a ballot paper featuring a choice between accepting the final deal achieved by prime minister Theresa May or remaining in the bloc, although some specifics of the campaign had yet to be worked out. The campaign unveiled the results of a poll that said 57% of businesses favoured a second referendum.

While followers of the UK’s ongoing negotiations with the bloc will be increasingly familiar with interventions from major businesses such as this week’s by thyssenkrupp, this event gave particular prominence to the voices of smaller businesses.

Rosa Ashby, owner of florist Rosa Flowers, said that as a “very, very small business” she didn’t want “any form of Brexit at all.”

She added that the business offers a “just-in-time” service, with many customers ordering one day and expecting the delivery the next day.

As the business imports flowers from Holland, its supply route could be impacted.

“I am really passionate about this because our business and trade are going to be devastated,” said Ashby, adding that 1900 florists had closed between the referendum and May of this year.

Speaking to eDelivery, Darren Price, director of underwear seller British Boxers, said that a Hard Brexit or no deal would cause the brand “significant difficulty”.

While he said that British Boxers is seeking to bring as much manufacturing as possible into the UK, it is impossible to move it all. The brand relies on factories in Eastern Europe and cloth sourced from different parts of the continent.

On top of this, he adds that the UK leaving the customs union in which products can travel freely across borders will add layers of complexity on sales.

While “bigger companies have larger teams to deal with the Brexit impact”, he says, the likes of British Boxers have no such luxury.

“Every big business was a small business once,” he said, citing the example of fellow panellist Innocent.

Price said that the decision to speak out on Brexit was part of a wider company policy to have “the confidence to say things you know are important”.

“Taking a position [on Brexit] is important for businesses that are going to suffer as a result.”

One can expect similar arguments from businesses in the lead-up to March 2019, the UK’s official departure date from the EU. Whether they will make an impact on the public in time or at all is impossible to know.