Ed’s view: Softly, softly, catchy Brexit

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I miss the days when everything was much more certain. You always knew the sky was blue, the sun was going to rise and that this country would have a functional government.

Halcyon days indeed. But nowadays, nobody seems to have a clue what’s going on or where we are going, and with each successive political earthquake, UK plc seems to be plunged into further uncertainty.

So for the catering equipment sector, what does the latest general election result mean? Well, in this case it could actually be good news. As a net importer, the prospect of Brexit worried many, with the spectre of extra tariffs and red tape looming in the background.

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But now that the election has dealt a blow to those who were pushing for a ‘hard Brexit’, a softer version could be much more beneficial for the UK catering equipment supply chain and business as a whole.

If we stay in both the single market in a Norway/Iceland-style deal and the customs union á la Turkey, that could do a lot to mitigate any possible changes in regulations and tariffs. Continuing as members of the single market would compel us to meet the same standards as our European cousins, and mean that any catering equipment manufactured in EU countries would automatically be safe to use here without any regulatory divergence.

And for the customs union, preventing extra tariffs from being introduced means that the pricing outlook is far more positive for imported professional kitchen appliances, especially when prices are currently so squeezed anyway.

Plus any softer Brexit would indicate fewer restrictions on immigration, and with the hospitality industry as a whole so reliant on foreign workers, if operators don’t have to splash the cash on a massive recruitment drive to make up any shortfall, we can only hope that this will give them more budget to spend on their back of house, filtering down through the supply chain.

But of course where there are positives there will inevitably be negative outcomes. A softer Brexit may not bring the massive payday any UK catering equipment manufacturers were hoping for, or encourage more brands or start-ups to establish themselves here.

All of these outcomes depend on the government being able to thrash out a deal in the first place, and with the instability of a minority governing party relying on bargaining with smaller players to get any legislation through, the prospect of ‘no deal’ becomes very real – something that CESA chairman Glenn Roberts described as “terrifying” in a statement following the hung parliament result.

With the Brexit talks already underway, I am sure everyone in the UK catering equipment sector will be keeping their fingers crossed for a definitive resolution, one way or another. A return to the heady days of certainty would be very welcome.

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