As British Members of Parliament reconvene in Westminster on 3 September, the British Fashion Council has laid out the consequences of a no-deal Brexit for the industry, and emphasised again that it should be avoided at all costs.
“The reality that a no deal could still happen, continues to have a negative impact on our industry,” said the BFC, before referring to the UK Fashion & Textile Association’s 2018 figures. “It is estimated that switching to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would cost the fashion industry between £850- and £900million.” Although this is less than Walpole’s assertion that up to a fifth of British luxury exports equating to a value of £6.8 billion would be at risk if Britain left the EU without a deal, it is an insurmountable loss.
The BFC outlined the importance of retaining the UK’s reputation as a leader in creativity, innovation and business – worth £32billion to the UK GDP. It urged the government to “seek a deal with the EU that would guarantee the healthy and steady growth of the fashion industry”; “give access to funding that would help create stimulus that will ensure British designer businesses continue to remain competitive internationally through trading agreements, access to finance, free movement of talent and support for promotion”; and to “advise on all the different scenarios and translate them into what they mean to the fashion industry and the best way to navigate global trade challenges”.
Ahead of London Fashion Week’s spring/summer 2020 season in September, the BFC held a seminar for designers on how to safeguard their businesses if Britain fails to strike a deal with the EU before the 31 October deadline. During a last-minute news conference held on the evening of 2 September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated his promise to take Britain out of the EU by Halloween with “no ifs, ands or buts”.
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Although Johnson outlined delays as “pointless”, leaving with no deal in place would have huge repercussions on trade and talent for the fashion industry. With regards to the impact of WTO tariffs, it is unclear who will have to incur the extra costs – the businesses or the consumers purchasing products. Samples, too, present more ambiguity regarding paperwork and additional costs. For small to medium enterprises (SMEs) these added financial constraints could prove crippling. Added to this, the new rules around giving 24 hours notice to HM Revenue & Customs of shipping goods, and the movement of fashion will become greatly restricted.
On the talent front, the BFC has been working with the Home Office to tackle existing known immigration issues. It has secured a new route for talented individuals in the field to work in the UK, and a means for models to enter the country temporarily with new visas. This does not take into account the 890,000 people (almost as many as the financial sector) that are currently employed by the British fashion industry, whose futures remain uncertain due to freedom of movement issues.
Since the 2016 referendum, individuals working within the sector have been worrying about losing jobs, financial implications and diluting creativity. As fashion critic Sarah Mower has continually commented, “We are facing a national emergency; the politicians have failed to show they have concern to protect jobs in fashion or any other UK industry.” There have been no efforts to renew consumer confidence, let alone to reassure the talented people who are fighting to stay afloat, never mind thrive in an ever-competitive industry. What more do organisations like the BFC have to do to be heard?