In Focus: British manufacturer Fane International highlights urgency of getting Brexit done
Ever since the referendum of 2016 saw the British electorate make the decision to leave the European Union, UK industry has set about planning and preparing to operate in accordance with the will of the British people. However, little over three years later, the British public is no closer to knowing what Brexit might look like, nor whether it will happen at all.
In this week's general election on 12th December, dubbed ‘The Brexit Election’ by Sky News, the issue of EU withdrawal will be a key, if not decisive battleground. Following months of deadlock in Parliament and seemingly no way of breaching the impasse, rather than return to the negotiating table or changing legislation, the solution for prime minister Boris Johnson was simple if he were to get his Brexit deal through: change Parliament.
Johnson and the Conservatives have made their stance on Brexit clear ahead of the election: push through the deal as soon as possible, negotiate a free-trade agreement with the EU and ensure the transition period will not run beyond 2020.
Meanwhile, Labour’s party policy will see Jeremy Corbyn negotiate a new deal which will see the UK remain in a close trading relationship with the EU by staying in a customs union and remaining closely aligned with the single market, with this deal then put to the British people in a second confirmatory referendum against the option to Remain.
The UK is at a crossroads, with an election to determine which path the country will ultimately take. In the backdrop, uncertainty continues to weigh heavily on the economy and one business leader has spoken out about the urgency of putting agendas to one side and getting Brexit done for the benefit of British business.
Mark Barnes, managing director of Fane International, a company with export sales at its core, spoke to Scott Challinor, business editor at The Parliamentary Review, about his thoughts.
Barnes said: “As the Managing Director of a West Yorkshire manufacturing company whose core is export sales which account for around 70 per cent of our turnover, I am keenly aware of the importance and impact of Brexit upon our trading future. Since the referendum result of 2016 which delivered a mandate to Leave the European Union [by around 70 per cent in the constituency in which our company is headquartered], we have recognised that we must plan and prepare as a business to operate in accordance with the decision of the British people.”
Of course, some business leaders in certain sectors will favour remaining in the European Union and will be quietly, or perhaps even not so quietly hoping that come what may in the election, Brexit does not come to pass. However, Barnes was firm in saying that such an option should have been off the table the moment the British people voted Leave in 2016 and that agendas cannot come before what the electorate has decided.
He said: “Business ought to exist as part of the community and not as a special interest group seeking to accrue preferential rights and privileges; since 2016, therefore, it has been our policy not to discuss the rights and wrongs of Brexit, the advantages and disadvantages of leaving the European Union. That debate was held in 2016 and a decision was reached by the electorate. It was debated and it is done. Consequently, from the date of the Referendum result it was time to move on.
“And move on we should, and move on we did, in common with many British businesses who are ready and prepared for Brexit.”
Indeed, the act of ‘moving on’ is something that many British businesses have simply had to do as Barnes outlines, with firms having to make key decisions despite Parliament’s inability to act decisively in agreeing on and setting out a Brexit path.
Business, according to Barnes,'is a world of planning and decision-making often with strict and finite deadlines dictated by the requirements of the market and of the stakeholders', where there is 'no place for hesitancy, lack of vision or lack of judgement.'
As Barnes explained in more detail: “Once a decision is made it must be delivered with resolution and confidence. If the management of a business fails to discharge their duties then it is entirely appropriate to change the management to a set of hands capable of doing the job. This applies equally to Brexit. It is a reason why Parliament has been letting us down, displaying all the characteristics which are grievous flaws in the world of business and industry.”
In Barnes’ view, the prolonged delay to Brexit in Parliament has not only been a frustrating factor for British businesses, but a damaging one, which has left business leaders and the British public alike very much on the periphery.
“These delays are frustrating for business, frustrating for the British people who feel increasingly marginalised by the political process, frustrating for international clients who are perplexed and confused by the UK’s trading status. They are not merely frustrating, they are damaging. Between the Scylla of reductions in investment [by firms who are playing ‘wait and see’] and the Charybdis of investments made without a return [by firms investing in anticipation of post-Brexit trade deals], British business is caught in the most invidious of positions.”
Yet, it begs the question as to how a business so heavily involved in export could be so keen to get Brexit over the line, despite all that has been made of the consequences of leaving the EU. Addressing this, Barnes was discussed how rejecting a hesitant approach and positively engaging with the country’s choice to leave the EU has left the business ready to seize the opportunities Brexit may present in future.
“In contrast to much of the ‘doom and gloom’ portrayed by the media in their desire to give a political slant or spin to Brexit, we have engaged positively to the Brexit mandate and seized it as an opportunity to drive business development, continuous improvement and focus on revised business goals. Rather than adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude by withholding investment and postponing recruitment, we have worked on the assumption that Brexit will be done and will be done properly and have conducted our business planning based upon those assumptions which reflect the backdrop of the Referendum result.”
Brexit will inevitably require some adapting to take place within British businesses, with Barnes going onto discuss how Fane has modified its own strategy to accommodate the electorate's decision in 2016. One move was to focus on increasing its presence in regions outside of the EU, marketplaces which will open up once the UK is taken out of the EU single market and customs union.
Barnes said: “We are focusing our business strategy upon increasing export sales in regions outside of the EU. We have recruited international sales personnel in those target regions to represent our interests on the ground with specific expertise in those markets.
“We have had over three years to prepare since the Referendum result alone not to mention the lengthy preamble to that vote, month after month of dire prognostications from ‘experts’ about the impact of voting Leave, prognostications which we are delighted to see have not materialised in reality.”
When quizzed about what he would like to see a future Brexit deal looks like, Barnes stressed the importance of being able to strike meaningful trade deals with economies outside of the EU for there to be any tangible benefit for the country.
“The UK now needs to have the ability to strike independent trade deals with vibrant world economies beyond the EU. Every month of delay is a month lost from striking the deals which will be immensely valuable to British manufacturers and exporters who have their eye on the global expanding market outside the boundaries of the EU.”
Barnes’ final word on the Brexit conundrum ahead of December’s election was a particularly telling one, as he called upon business and those standing to sit in the new Parliament to heed the will of the British people in tandem and end uncertainty once and for all by committing to get Brexit done and move forward.
“The way forward ought to be clear. Business should lead the way in driving our country forward and not seek to obstruct the popular will; the House of Commons should perform their role as elected representatives of the community and get the job done without further delay. Let’s get it done and let’s get on.
“Come the election, let it be so.”
With the election now a matter of days away, only time will tell.