Comment: impressions of Brexit


A recent visit to Europe gave Ali Spencer the opportunity to see at first-hand the immediate aftermath of the 23 June British referendum decision to exit the European Union, ‘Brexit’.

My trip, firstly to Bonn in Germany for the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ World Congress 2016, then pitched a vibrant, forward and outward-looking Edinburgh against a still beautiful but sadly forlorn-looking, pot-holed Northern England.

Mention Brexit and there’s a general wince and veiling of eyes from the Brits. The referendum pitched old Brits against the young, working class against the establishment. It is a very modern “civil war”, in a way, that will see Britain re-shaped.

Open ‘Brexiteers’, as they call themselves, were few and far between but cite immigration, ‘crazy EU rules’ and ‘taking back control,’ amongst their reasons for their vote.

‘Remainers’ were still emotionally scarred: angry, bewildered and disheartened.

Europeans were simply perplexed at the decision. This was reflected in the results of a recent survey from global market researchers Mintel of over 7,000 consumers across Europe. This showed that people in Spain, Italy and Poland are more concerned abut the effects of Brexit on their own economies than British consumers are on the UK economy. The survey found that almost half (48 percent) of Spanish consumers will have a ‘somewhat’ or ‘extremely’ negative impact on their own economy, as do 41 percent of Italian and Polish consumers respectively. Germans agree that the UK’s vote to leave will have a negative impact on their country’s economy, with 31 percent of French consumers saying they expect it to impact France’s economic growth.

Toby Clark director of EMEA Research at Mintel said: “The results show how widely the repercussions of the Brexit vote have spread and clearly highlight the risk that uncertainty and disruption have, as well as the potential to drag down consumer sentiment across the continent as a whole. But the data also shows that British consumers are much more upbeat about their prospects than their counterparts in other key European markets.”

Amidst all the news reports of companies leaving the UK and massive 15+ hour traffic jams at Dover docks as the school holidays got underway and Britain scrambled to get Customs officers in place as the French under-resourced their side of the English Channel, one cheerful Edinburgh tax driver told me it was the best he’d seen it in 20 years. Tourists were flocking to the UK in hordes, he said, drawn by the weak pound. News reports were the same for London.

A surprisingly high proportion of British farmers had voted in favour of Brexit, especially so since a large proportion of their income is derived from EU agri-environment subsidies. Britain’s new Minister for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom – a leading Brexiteer and one of the candidates for the Prime Ministership – is now charged with looking after their interests in the two years after Article 50 has been invoked and up to seven years, or more, to implementation of the final agreement with the European Union.

People are generally in agreement that, in the circumstances and out of the available candidates, new British Prime Minister Theresa May was the best candidate and she is receiving high approval rates in the polls, to date.

There is hope that, now the decision has been made, the situation will be sorted out, possibly leading to a stronger, but different Britain. That is, if Scotland doesn’t manage to split away from the Union in the meantime.

Meanwhile closer to home, while nothing will change for New Zealand exporters in the short-term, meat processors and others with interests in the UK will be interested in the news just out. New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay is calling for public submissions on the likely impact of Brexit on New Zealand businesses that export goods or services to the UK, or which have investments in the UK. He says the New Zealand government is paying close attention to ensure the interests of New Zealanders are maintained and advanced.

“The first step of this is to build an accurate understanding of New Zealand’s commercial interests in the UK and hear from exporters and investors how they think Brexit will impact their activities in the UK.”

Submissions received will help inform the Government’s approach to issues that may arise in the course of the UK’s exit from the EU and to enable the Government to more effectively work with businesses to safeguard New Zealand’s interests as the process unfolds. More information is available at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website.  According to McClay, this process is separate from the submissions already received by the New Zealand government on the EU-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, which is New Zealand’s current trade priority in Europe.

The next couple of years will be interesting, not only for the UK, but also for all countries which trade with her, including us.









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