Walpole and key British luxury brands join call for a pro-business Brexit

Helen Brocklebank CEO, Walpole

Luxury industry body Walpole has joined the voices warning against a “cliff-edge” Brexit this week saying the government needs to unite around a pro-business Brexit and safeguard the future success of an industry that contributes £32.2bn to the UK economy and exports £25bn to overseas markets.

CEO of Walpole Helen Brocklebank said she would urge the Conservative party “once famous for being the party of business“, to deliver a pro-enterprise Brexit, “enabling our members to protect jobs in the UK and continue to promote Brand Britain around the world”.

British luxury brands are known for being standard bearers of high quality on the global market and are committed to being able to retain production in the UK. Manufacturers of luxury goods employ 110,000 people in “long term, sustainable and regional jobs” throughout the UK, the industry body pointed out.

“Britain’s luxury companies are passionate about their country. Their Britishness is a fundamental part of their customer appeal and these businesses are proud of their role in making Brand Britain famous around the world. However, for the small or medium businesses and entrepreneurs, the ramifications of a hard Brexit could be ruinous and poses a risk to the country’s prosperity and the value of Brand Britain,” Brocklebank said.

Her views were echoed by Walpole chairman Michael Ward who is also managing director of luxury department store Harrods. “The Government’s ambiguity over Brexit is stifling the British luxury industry; putting our small and medium-size enterprises, the backbone of the luxury goods sector, most at risk. Ongoing uncertainty around future trade restrictions, subsequent currency fluctuations and potential supply chain vulnerability mean businesses from across the luxury sector, from globally recognised brands to start-ups, are unable to plan for the future,” he said.

“We encourage the Government to commit to a deal that enables tariff and customs free-trade with our European neighbours to ensure we can receive and export necessary goods freely, while also allowing us to make the most of huge growth potential overseas. British luxury is a true global success story, and this cannot be jeopardised in the long-term through obfuscation,” Ward added.

Walpole represents 210 luxury businesses in the UK and a number of them have come out in support of its stance on Brexit. Speaking on behalf of luxury leather goods manufacturer, Ettinger, CEO, Robert Ettinger added: “A no free trade agreement would mean the nightmare scenario of a doubling of duties and delays in importing materials and exporting finished goods.”

Katie Goldblatt, executive director of luxury brand Rapport added: “Walking away empty-handed from negotiations would deliver a risky and expensive blow to our business. Increased tariffs and obstacles to trade through customs procedures and higher compliance costs would be onerous, Europe is a significant export market and we are worried about the prospect of new barriers to trade, either from tariffs or the costs of any moves by Britain to set its own industry standards and rules.”

On behalf of luxury food retailers Marc Demarquette, founder of Demarquette Chocolates, commented: “With perishability at stake a no deal Brexit would cripple our suppliers and hamper our ability to deliver products to consumers. A quick, fatal outcome.”

The call from Walpole follows the writing of an open letter to Theresa May and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier by the British Retail Consortium chairman Richard Pennycook, which was published today. Pennycook pointed out the risks to the food industry saying a no-deal Brexit would be a “lose-lose” situation for both British and EU producers of food and would place in jeopardy more than 12,500 small retailers.