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Brexit

As Brexit draws closer, some businesses are bullish

Stephen Beard Mar 1, 2019
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Pro-Brexit activists march outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on February 27, 2019.
Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

March was supposed to be a decisive month in the long and tortuous story of Brexit. Mar. 29 is the official date of Britain’s departure from the European Union and, it was hoped, the day the bitter wrangling which has dominated British public life since the referendum on EU membership would finally come to an end. But that hope was badly shaken this week.

Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to make a major concession to the so-called “remainers” in her cabinet which could prolong the afore-mentioned wrangling. Should parliament reject her proposed exit deal on Mar. 12, May has agreed to hold a vote on whether to exit the union without a deal. If parliament rejects the option to exit without a deal, there will follow a vote on whether to ask the EU for more time.

This is exasperating for the Brexiteers who say Brexit will boost the British economy and rescue its democracy.

Steve Hardeman, managing director of Clevedon Fasteners, believes his chances of developing more overseas markets would be improved if Britain were out of the EU and able to negotiate its own free trade agreements.

We have got a fantastic future on our own,” said Steve Hardeman, the managing director of Clevedon Fasteners, a small manufacturing company in the English Midlands. “I’ve got an enormous amount of faith in British business and British manufacturing, and I’ve got no faith whatsoever in the EU.”

Hardeman’s company makes rivets and fasteners for use in manufacturing and exports to 38 countries. He believes that his chances of developing additional overseas markets, including the United States, would be hugely improved if Britain were out of the EU and able to negotiate its own free trade agreements.

Hardeman said that he would be happy for the U.K. to leave on Mar. 29 without an exit deal.

“The great thing about no-deal is: Mar. 29? It’s done,” he told Marketplace. “No more arguments, no more fiddling about with parliament to try to scupper this. It’s done.” Hardeman said that the EU’s massive trade surplus with Britain would mean no lasting gridlock at the ports. The disruption would be “sorted within a week,” he suggested.

In the heart of London’s legal district, more than one hundred miles south of Hardeman’s rivet factory, Martin Howe, a senior barrister, expressed similar enthusiasm for a no-deal Brexit. “Once we leave, and if we leave without a deal, our negotiating position vis-a-vis the EU will be enormously strengthened,” he claimed.

Howe runs a pro-Brexit campaign group — Lawyers for Britain — which might seem a little odd for a lawyer whose practice takes a lot of EU cases. But Howe said his familiarity with EU law, which he described as far too vulnerable to political pressure, had convinced him that the U.K. would be much better off making and implementing its own laws. He acknowledged that without an exit deal he could, at least temporarily, lose access to the European Court and lose business. Dozens of British lawyers have registered with Irish legal bodies in order to retain that access. But Howe hasn’t been one of those lawyers. He says he is totally committed to Brexit for the sake of British democracy.

“The essential thing is to get back control over our laws and once again be a parliamentary democracy where, if we don’t like the laws that are passed, we can chuck out the people responsible,” said Howe.  

“We, as a country have been pretty adventurous in the past. We need to bring back that spirit of adventure,” said Tony Barnett, founder of electronics firm Barnbrook Systems.

In his electronics factory 80 miles south of London, another Brexiteer, Tony Barnett, says he also sees Brexit as a bid for freedom and democracy and says he has no fear of a no-deal exit. “I would rather have a no-deal Brexit than no Brexit at all. Unequivocally,” he said.  

Barnett’s electronics firm, Barnbrook Systems, employs 50 people and exports all over the world. He believes that Brexit will broaden the horizons of British business, and that real entrepreneurs should not be afraid.

“We, as a country, have always struck out into a new world. We’ve been pretty adventurous. We need to bring some of that adventurous spirit back again,” Barnett told Marketplace.

But, he said, the spirit emanating from parliament, from big business, and from mainstream business organizations where opposition to Brexit is rife, doesn’t seem adventurous at all. The prevailing mood, as a result, is one of fear.

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