The Aftermath of Brexit: How Will Fashion Fare in the Fallout?

It has been less than a week since the UK exited the European Union. However, the rocky relationship between the two started nearly half a century ago. In 1973, the United Kingdom made it into the ECC (European Economic Community) but, only a few years later, the nation held a referendum with the question: “Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?”

At the time, 67% voted “Yes” and the relationship between the UK and the EU continued. Unfortunately, from Thatcher to Blair and, later on, Cameron, the British governments have never been extremely in favour of the EU. But it wasn’t until 2016 when former prime minister David Cameron promised yet another referendum. Although it only passed by a slim 51.9% to 48.1% margin, the referendum signed the end of the EU as we know it and started what has turned out to be an extremely tense set of negotiations.

But what exactly changed after Brexit?

From a cultural point of view, both racism and race-related hate crimes have increased significantly since 2016. According to a survey carried out by Opinium, racists are feeling increasingly confident in deploying overt abuse or discrimination and the proportion of people from an ethnic minority who said they had been targeted by a stranger rose from 64% in January 2016 to 76% in February 2019. Additionally, data from the survey shows that, at the end of 2016, 37% of people saw racism on social media on a day-to-day basis, a percentage that has now risen to 50%.

Furthermore, according to Stop Hate UK, in the 3 months directly after the EU referendum, more than 14,000 hate crimes were reported and 10 forces reported more than a 50% increase on the previous 3 months.

Recently, YouGov has released data showing how a quarter of Brits (26%) and 41% Leave voters say they are bothered when they hear those from a non-English speaking country talking to each other in their own language whilst in the UK. This poll comes shortly after the report of a “Happy Brexit Day” poster last Friday which told residents of a block of flats: "We do not tolerate people speaking other languages than English in the flats.

“We are now our own country again and the Queen’s English is the spoken tongue here. If you want to speak whatever is the mother tongue of the country you came from then we suggest you return to that place and return your flat to the council."

But the aftermath of Brexit doesn’t stop there. Last Thursday, the Bank of England estimated trend GDP (gross domestic product) at 1.1% per year over the next three years, having believed several years ago that Britain’s economy could sustainably grow at around 2.5% a year. In a report for The Guardian, senior adviser to the consultancy Cambridge Econometrics Andrew Sentance said: “Even if economic growth does recover somewhat in the next couple of quarters, the progress of the UK economy is likely to remain sluggish in 2020.”

In December, sales in Britain slumped as consumers reined in their spending over the key Christmas shopping period. In particular, a report from the Office for National Statistics showed that clothing experienced strong declines both during the month at negative 2.0% and in the three months prior at a negative 2.3%, making this the sixth consecutive month of no growth for clothing stores for the three-month on three-month movement.

In 2019, the UK Fashion and Textile Association released a statement explaining that the EU accounts for 76% of the industry’s £9.7bn exports and, in the event of a no-deal, exports to the EU would attract tariffs of between 4 and 12%. Adding to this, the British Fashion Council said that it would be “essential for the UK to retain its leading position in attracting global talent.” 

Whatever the case, UKFT explained that the UK’s exit from the European Union could potentially bring new opportunities through meaningful trade deals with key markets, where the best-case scenario trade deal for UK manufacturing would encompass zero import and export tariffs. Last week, UK Brexit minister Stephen Barclay explained that the zero-tariff, zero-quota trade is one of the British government’s aims in the upcoming trade talks. However, EU negotiators have said that they will only agree to that if Britain decides to maintain EU standards on workers’ rights, environmental protection and state aid.

Last year, pillar British brand Burberry, missed the analysts’ expectations for third-quarter sales growth and reported an anaemic 1% for the 13 weeks to December 29, compared with the same period the previous year, according to the Financial Times. “The biggest concern is the disruption to the supply chain,” said chief operating and financial officer Julie Brown to the publication. “Burberry imports and exports significant volumes of raw materials, samples and finished goods between the UK and the EU, and it is the logistical delays that would impact design, product development and customer fulfilment.”

It is nearly impossible to detect what will happen within the next year but, as far as fashion is concerned, the BFC will continue to strike for a deal that guarantees the healthy and steady growth of the fashion industry, gives access to funding and to free movement of talent. “It is very important that communications to international students and talent is clear and highlights the fact that the fashion industry still wants them to study here, start businesses here and work here,” they said in a statement.

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