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British Designers, Industry Figures Bemoan Post-Brexit Business

Samantha Conti
·3 min read

LONDON — British designers and industry figures have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and members of his cabinet bemoaning a raft of post-Brexit measures, including new visa requirements for workers and a mountain of red tape, which they argue are hurting small businesses in particular.

The letter was spearheaded by the industry lobby Fashion Roundtable, and signatories include Jane Shepherdson, Nick Knight, Zowie Broach, Camilla Lowther, Bethany Williams, Phoebe English, Katharine Hamnett, Prof. Dilys Williams and Helen Brocklebank of Walpole.

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They express their frustration at the costs of implementing the new measures; the loss of business opportunities; and the pressure on margins as they seek to work out deals with European Union partners and colleagues.

“We write to you as concerned members of the U.K.’s fashion and textile industry, an industry which contributes 35 billion pounds to U.K. GDP and employs almost 1 million people, but which is at real risk of decimation by the Brexit trade deal and current government policy,” the letter begins.

It argues that the new EU trade deal, signed in December, is “leaving a gaping hole where promised free movement for goods and services for all creatives, including the fashion and textiles sector, should be.”

The letter bemoans the “costly work permits” required for Britons working temporarily in the EU and a “mountain of paperwork” involved in moving products and equipment for various events. It also argues that the U.K. is losing business to Continental Europe, due to the new measures.

“From traveling to the EU for trade shows, to large value shoots and shows happening here in the U.K., red tape delays and costs are impacting our industry already, with work relocating to the EU, all impacting our opportunities to trade and travel.”

The letter says many of the U.K.’s “thriving 59,000 industry (small and medium-sized businesses) cannot afford the added costs of red tape experts, nor should they.”

It points out that U.K. fashion businesses now need to have dedicated EU distributors, which impact margins, and that selling clothes to European customers “now comes with VAT, duties and handling fees amounting to an additional 30 percent on top of the product price, making them less likely to continue buying from U.K. brands.”

The letter urges the government to rescind its decision to cancel the controversial VAT rebate scheme, which is forecast to impact all U.K. retailers that sell to tourists, at a loss of more than 3.5 billion pounds worth of tax-free retail sales and up to 41,000 jobs.

“This will not only impact our retailers but also impact tourism and travel, both industries that will need support post-pandemic,” the letter says.

In addition, the letter asks that fashion professionals be put on a par with those in the British film industry.

“We urge the government to consider the same kinds of tax relief offered to the film industry for brands showing sustainable leadership and innovation with U.K manufacturing, in light of the climate crisis.

“For the sake of our U.K. fashion creatives, we urge the government to recognize the contributions that photographers, stylists, models, hairdressers and makeup artists make to our global leadership across the media, with the same levels of support as seen for the film industry, who are currently listed on the critical workers’ list and were offered a travel exemption.”