The situation following the surprise referendum result can best be described as fluid but more accurately as uncertain. The political situation changes daily, albeit that with Theresa May now installed as the new Prime Minister and the new Cabinet announced a sense of uneasy calm has descended.
The retail sector employs almost three million people and accounts for around £340bn of sales. It is hugely important to the UK economy. It is probably too early to see the true effect that Brexit will have on retail sales but early indications are that the impact is less than what might have been expected.
The weakening of Sterling seen in the immediate aftermath of the referendum result (albeit it has recovered slightly) may see more foreigners visiting Britain as the country will now be more affordable. This will have a positive effect on retailers that are lucky enough to be situated in the tourist hotspots but will not help those elsewhere.
The question of inward investment in the UK economy is going to be harder to address. London, particularly, has been seen as the launch point for international retailers looking to break into the European market. Will that still be the case? The fall in the value of Sterling will make such launches cheaper but will London still have the pull it has previously enjoyed or will Paris, Berlin or Madrid start to look more attractive?
Looking to the future there is of course the question of whether the UK will ever invoke "Article 50"? Will we ever even leave the EU? Whilst our new Prime Minister has said "Brexit is Brexit" what does that actually mean? What will be the status of the thousands of European nationals that currently work in our retail industry? How easy will it be to employ people from the EU in the future? If the UK does want to enjoy full access to the Single Market what will this mean for product regulation? For 40 years the EU has governed much of the legislation that affects how things are produced and the working conditions of those that sell them. Will that change? It might be that the price of full access to the Single Market is ongoing compliance with EU rules and regulations.
Finishing on a positive note, this ‘nation of shopkeepers’ has one of the most varied, inventive and creative retail sectors in the world. Brexit is not going to change that and I am convinced that in spite of any difficulties that Brexit hurls its way, our retail sector is more than capable of thriving in a post-Brexit world.