A Somerset businessman is cautiously optimistic about Britain’s prospects after Brexit – one year on from predicting he could lose 20 per cent of his business “overnight” if the UK left the EU.
Managing director of Wyke Farms, Richard Clothier, warned people in January 2016 that the consequences of voting Leave in a referendum on Britain’s EU membership could be dire for dairy businesses like his.
After the vote, in July, he said Brexit could still be “very dangerous” for jobs in the South West. He argued the country was still in limbo until Article 50 triggered the actual process of leaving.
Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed on Tuesday (January 17) Britain would not seek to remain in the single market – an agreement for free trade and free movement of people between EU countries.
For many who opposed leaving, this was a signal of a “hard” Brexit which could hurt the country’s economy.
Reacting Mrs May’s speech, Mr Clothier said: “The ‘type’ of Brexit we will end up with is still unknown, but at this stage there is plenty to be optimistic about.
“Firstly, dealing with the customs union should allow access to the free market.
“Secondly, premium dairy brands like us are well positioned to ride the uncertainty and finally we see opportunity to build new markets elsewhere.”
The Prime Minister’s speech confirmed she has interpreted the Brexit vote as a call from the public to cut immigration.
Mr Clothier has previously warned of the risks of prioritising an immigration cut at the expense of trade deals.
But in July 2016 he did point out that after Brexit Britain may as well seek to trade with the rest of the world, rather than limiting itself to EU rules.
He said then: “Just free trade with Europe would be a failure really, we had that anyway and it was put at risk for a reason – what can we get in addition with countries like China, India and the US?
“I would hate to see agriculture traded off against corporate finance, with farmers losing out at the expense of banking. And I’m also concerned that in the pursuit of getting immigration down, we’ll sacrifice trade deals.”
The Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, recently indicated the UK could change its economic model into that of a tax haven for financial companies – should the EU make trade deals difficult.
This could lead to deals which put bankers first, as Mr Clothier feared.
For Mr Clothier the fight to get the best deal for Wyke Farms, farmers in general and the South West will clearly continue – despite the Prime Minister’s tough negotiating stance.