Walpole luxury group calls for pro-business Brexit

A call from Walpole for a “pro-business Brexit” has highlighted growing concerns among luxury firms that the UK government is more concerned about addressing divisions in the ruling Conservative Party than achieving the best deal for British business.


Luxury body Walpole is calling for a pro-business Brexit in the face of government in-fighting


The group said government uncertainty is “stifling” the sector with individual companies that are supporting Walpole’s call also speaking of a “nightmare scenario.”

Walpole, the official sector body for British luxury and its 210 member companies, has now urged the Government “to unite around a pro-business Brexit and safeguard the future success of an industry that contributes £32.2 billion to the UK economy and exports £25 billion to overseas markets.”

Walpole’s statement on Friday came after reports that arch-Brexiteers in the Conservative Party are unwilling to listen to business calls for strong trade links with EU countries, despite the Conservatives having always pitched themselves as the party of business. 

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is reported to have said “**** business!”, while former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has criticised business groups. After several warnings from prominent European businesses of potential UK exits, he accused them of scaremongering and in a bizarre newspaper article went on to slam the CBI’s predecessor group as having been in favour of Nazi appeasement almost 90 years ago. 

Walpole’s call happened on the same day as the UK’s Prime Minister and cabinet are meeting to try to agree a unified approach on what they want from a Brexit deal.

Walpole’s CEO Helen Brocklebank urged the government, "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.”

The group said that British luxury brands are committed to keeping their companies UK-based, “despite the risks to their businesses of a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit” with luxury being “the only sector in the economy for which it is customer-critical to manufacture and produce in the UK.”

British luxury businesses employ over 110,000 people “in long-term, sustainable and regional jobs throughout the whole of the British Isles,” Walpole said.

Brocklebank added: “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.”

Michael Ward, the Harrods chief who is also Walpole chairman, added: “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.

"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." 

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.”

Other brands to endorse the statement on Friday included Daks, Dunhill, Ormonde Jayne, Trunk Clothiers and, of course, Harrods.

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