Opinion: Of Pigs, Pigeons and Unicorns

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

27 October 2016

That flapping noise you can hear? It's the sound of pigeons coming home to roost.

As the shade of debate post Britain's referendum has moved from Brexit to 'hard Brexit' (who knew that term even existed, still less that it was on the table as an actionable strategy pre-vote?) so the mood has got both darker and sourer.

The last fortnight alone has seen high-ranking suits in car manufacturing and banking warn of potential relocation of factories/offices, losing the country thousands of jobs and costing it (both directly and indirectly) millions of pounds.

The BBPA is trying to minimise the damage caused by this self-inflicted wound.

Employers in the on-trade have bristled at the government's ham-fisted ‘list your foreigners' idea and supplier after supplier has either talked about or implemented price rises.

The current price rises, incidentally, are purely as a result of the tanking pound. Elements like short vintages, the strengthening dollar and any looming trade tariffs are yet to come.

And of course, if the pound does, as some are predicting, hit parity with the Euro, that’s another 10% increase on your imports right there.

Once these various price negatives start to filter through onto the high-street – whether in retail or in bars and restaurants – there will be anger, frustration and, in all probability a reduction in consumer spend.

So it was with no small interest that I read the recent 'Brexit manifesto' from the British Beer and Pub Association.

This was, essentially, a plea from a trade body to a government to bear in mind the needs of its members when making Brexit decisions. And to its credit the group hasn't held back in its demands.

It's asked for a free-trade deal with the EU; a more competitive duty regime, including cuts in VAT; an immigration system that 'supports the necessary levels of staffing for our sector’; and no changes to overseas visitors' visa requirements.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because that's pretty much what we had before. That it sounds so unattainable now is an indicator of how and where the debate has shifted.

Let me say first of all that I have some sympathy with the BBPA. They're in the slightly awkward situation of representing a profession most of whose members (according to market research that I saw pre-vote) voted in favour of Brexit, despite the fact that it was clearly not in their economic interests.

There's never been anything to stop the government cutting either duty or VAT, so leaving the EU is unlikely to make any difference to the thinking of May et al.

The BBPA is trying to minimise the damage caused by this self-inflicted wound.

But frankly, their requests are so pie in the sky they might as well be asking the government for the right to fly pigs when and where they choose and demanding a free unicorn for every member.

There's never been anything to stop the government cutting either duty or VAT, so leaving the EU is unlikely to make any difference to the thinking of May et al.

The one thing that would guarantee sufficient numbers of people prepared to work for the on-trade's paltry wages – freedom of movement – is also, sadly, the one issue that seems to have galvanised the 'outers' to vote as they did. There seems to be no way that the government can go soft on it without facing accusations that democracy is being traduced.

And playing hardball on freedom of movement will, in turn, almost certainly see the UK ejected from the single market, which will probably mean tariffs, visas and endless red tape.

Most trade talks are about how to remove barriers to create a more open market. But the next two years will, instead, see the UK and Europe, which already have an almost completely free trading environment, engaged in acrimonious discussions about precisely which barriers to erect to make life more difficult for all concerned.

If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is. That we chose to put ourselves in this position is simply the final layer of jet-black irony on an already bitter cake.

Only two things could make it better: the right to fly our pigs when and where we like, and free unicorns for all.

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