POLITICO London Playbook, presented by Lloyds Banking Group: May and Corbyn headaches — Officially Tiggers — An exporter speaks
By ANNABELLE DICKSON
Good Friday morning. This is Annabelle Dickson. There are five weeks left until Brexit Day.
Following Business Secretary Greg Clark’s select committee warning earlier this month about the need for a Brexit deal by mid-February amid concerns from exporters, Playbook asked the British Exporters Association to put us in touch with one of its members to test the temperature. Carl Hunter, chief executive of Coltraco Ultrasonics, which manufactures ultrasonic safety and survey equipment and sends half its exports to the Indo-Pacific, got in touch.
On Clark’s warning: “I regard any Cabinet minister exceptionally highly, but I also expect a degree of restraint in their remarks, because they should realize the effect [on confidence],” Hunter said. He added that independent membership of the WTO shouldn’t be described as “catastrophic or disastrous because it has no other implication beyond doing what I first had to do in business, which is fill out the occasional form … we were delighted to fill out those forms because it meant we had an order.”
On tariffs: Hunter claimed to be in a position to absorb tariffs if he needed to, and believed other businesses would be too, because “the enthusiasm to trade overseas would overwhelm any tariffs at all.”
Businesses reliant on EU trade? “I recognize there may be a sliver of our economy that is entirely dependent on the arrangement [with the EU] as we find it, I just struggle to imagine why they would not do what business always does best, which is adjust to changing circumstances.”
Back the deal: “I think we have spent all our last six months pouring over [the backstop] and have forgotten the magic words in the Political Declaration that describe one of the most perfect relationships we could ever have hoped for with the EU having voted to leave it,” Hunter said. The declaration “made clear that the EU recognizes the U.K. will have its own independent trade policy … I think we should give particularly the prime minister, but the government overall, a break because I am absolutely convinced most people are discussing something that they have not read, and sometimes I wonder whether our parliamentarians haven’t either.”
Preparing for Brexit? On the implications of tariffs, harmonization codes, how we are going to ship goods post March 29, what rules of origin are going to apply and so on, Hunter said he was “going to go to our contractors and pay them to do that … We will not absorb effort from [our] engineering, science and commercial endeavors … we will not allow those to be distracted by the administrative things that we can outsource to people that are already trusted suppliers of ours.” Hunter’s goods are generally shipped by air.
Civil service impartiality: Hunter claims to have met numerous civil servants since the Brexit vote. “I was always on the lookout for a civil servant to say ‘it was a stupid policy, I hate it.’ I never found any and I only saw one raised eyebrow. That is good enough for me.”
Message to the ERG: “When I look at the ERG I really wonder how many of them have exported … we have had two years where everybody has had their say, [Theresa May] has tried her very best to accommodate everybody’s concerns and hopes … compromise was the only outcome and the work to achieve the Political Declaration is massive, but it will best be done if we stand behind it and the person that leads on that … should be the prime minister, who stands head and shoulders above every other political figure in this country.”