“As a small business owner in rural South Wales, I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me, in a dismissive or surprised tone of voice, “But you’ll be alright, Brexit won’t affect you!”
How wrong they are.
They seem to believe, mistakenly, that Brexit won’t affect local businesses because “they don’t deal with Europe”.
But we do. Either directly or indirectly, we all deal with Europe.
Like it or not, we live in an international world. The public likes buying international products. But thanks to Brexit, it is now much more difficult – and more expensive – for UK businesses, large and small, to trade with the biggest market on the planet.
I sell stationery and local school uniform. A large part of my range is imported from Europe – Romania, France, Germany, Italy. Some things I import directly, others I source via UK-based distributors. And for those who say “Well you should buy British!”, I buy plenty of products from UK businesses. And guess what, they have European supply chains too.
Over the last five years, cost prices have gone through the roof. Most of my ranges have increased by at least 15-20%. When the pound crashed the day after the referendum, I fought back the tears as I explained to a Leave-voting friend that everything would now be more expensive, small businesses like mine would be hit hard, people would lose their jobs and customers like her would inevitably have to pay more in the shops. Sadly that has turned out to be exactly what is happening, it is just being disguised at the moment by the Covid pandemic.
Now the UK has finally left the EU, businesses are facing another wave of unwelcome cost and complexity. The inevitable – and utterly predictable – consequence of the UK choosing to leave the Single Market and Customs Union is that we now have to deal with customs charges and a mountain of red tape. It is now so expensive and complicated to sell to or buy from Europe that many UK businesses have decided not to bother anymore.
So much for “Global Britain” – Boris Johnson’s government has made it too difficult even to deal with customers and suppliers on the other side of the English Channel.
That’s just one of the reasons why I got involved in the pro-European campaign. There are no benefits to Brexit – for businesses or individuals. It was clear as soon as Theresa May laid out her infamous red lines that our Government was actively choosing to sabotage our economy and remove our rights, protections and opportunities. I could not sit back and let that happen.
So I co-founded the campaign group Vale of Glamorgan For Europe, joined the Wales for Europe team, went to all the marches in London and became a thorn in my MPs side. Before I knew it, having never been involved in politics before, I was standing in the 2019 European elections, the 2019 General Election and then the 2021 Senedd election, with one clear objective – to stop the Tories from inflicting this disaster on our country.
So what now? Brexit has happened and it is clear that it will be many years before we can rejoin the EU. So I have three objectives for the years ahead:
- mitigate the damage that Brexit already has and will continue to cause my business.
- continue to hold to account all those who campaigned for and supported Brexit – including my Regional Member of the Senedd and Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies; and my MP Alun Cairns, who as Secretary of State for Wales actively campaigned for remain as he fully understood the damage Brexit would do to our country, but has supported the Government and voted for Brexit at every opportunity. They must take responsibility for their actions.
- continue to explain objectively to friends, family and members of the public why Brexit is a mistake, and make the argument for the UK to rejoin the Single Market and Customs Union, and eventually the EU, at the earliest opportunity.
The road back to Europe will be long and undoubtedly painful, but there are so many reasons why it is a road worth travelling. “
Sally Stephenson is a small business owner in the Vale of Glamorgan