Printing industry business leaders have reacted with relief after the threat of a no deal Brexit taking place tomorrow was averted, but remain despairing that uncertainty is set to continue with politicians still seemingly no closer to finalising a concrete solution to the Brexit conundrum.
After hours of prolonged talks in Brussels last night, the UK and EU agreed a six-month ‘Brextension’, or flexible extension of Brexit until 31 October, giving rise to numerous jokes on social media about the Halloween date, with some dubbing it ‘A Nightmare on Downing Street’.
Printing industry bosses expressed a mixture of reactions, with the universal expression being frustration.
BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold said: “When all the options are bad sometimes the best thing to do is to hit the ‘pause’ button. Absolutely nothing has changed, and the underlying challenge is that all the options are options that are not attractive to business. Somehow this has to be resolved over the next six months,” he said.
“The backstop of 31 October is actually a soft backstop. It’s a bit of a shambles.”
Businesses of all shapes and sizes expressed similar concerns and called for a 'business-friendly Brexit'.
Walstead Group chief executive Paul Utting, who oversees operations in the UK and in five countries on the continent, said: ‘It is obviously a relief that we will not crash out this week without a deal as there has clearly been insufficient preparation for this scenario, although the flip side is that we now have a further period of uncertainty.
“We must hope that Parliament now comes together to deliver a business-friendly Brexit which ideally would leave us in the customs union and single market. The tragedy of the current situation though is that even the best form of Brexit we can envisage is inferior to the deal we already have!”
Clifton Packaging sales director Zed Sheikh appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake up to Money show earlier this week, bemoaning the negative impact of Brexit. Today, he told PrintWeek: “We’re very disappointed. It’s total uncertainty and the blind leading the blind.
“We want to see total clarity and [for government] to let people know what the deal involves, to list it all out, clarify it and to say to the public that after Brexit, this is what will happen. That is the basic knowledge that people need to know. At the moment they don’t know, they just see a talk show on TV with no positive outcomes every day.
"The amount of resource being squandered is just mind-blowing.”
Darren Coxon, managing director at Welsh sheetfed magazine printer Pensord described the latest situation as “stability of uncertainty”.
“From a business perspective none of this is ideal but achieving the extension provides 'stability of uncertainty' which sounds ridiculous but it’s the position we’ve all been in for months and we’ve all just been getting on with it.
“So more of the same is not the worst thing in the world and at the very least we should see some stability in the markets over the next few months. The real issue remains though which is the deadlock in parliament and my fear is that without agreement wrong decisions will be made for the wrong reasons and we’ll all suffer much more pain in the short term than we should have.”
Gary White, managing director of Belfast’s Northside Graphics and digitalprinting.co.uk, said he was so fed up with the situation he intended to “stop watching the news between now and October.”
“I think it’s fair to say this is an extremely humiliating time for UK politics as a whole. The very fact that all the UK parties still appear to be putting their political agenda ahead of what’s right (or even compromising) for the good of the country is a disgrace. The UK’s future, to a degree, was in the hands of 27 other countries last night, that’s just embarrassing.”
The waste of time and effort in preparing for an unknown Brexit outcome highlighted by Sheikh was also a cause of evident frustration elsewhere.
Up until the early hours of this morning, the possibility of a no deal Brexit taking place tomorrow had resulted in some continental hauliers declining to deliver paper to the UK, in case their trucks became stuck as a result, with paper suppliers having to find alternative transport routes.
Denmaur Paper Media managing director Nick Gee said this had now been an issue for two months’ running. “A small number of suppliers are unwilling to despatch trucks that will not reach their final UK destination over a proposed exit date for fear of them leaving a mill believing they are delivering to a fellow EU country, only to find by the time they arrive they are delivering outside the EU,” he explained.
“The belief is this would cause issues. As a one-off this wasn’t a problem, but we have now had to deal with it for 29th March and now this Friday and who knows when again?”
A snap poll on PrintWeek’s Twitter channel about whether the latest Brexit scenario was a good thing or a Halloween horror story was running at 48% ‘good thing’ and 52% ‘Halloween horror story’ at the time of writing.
Have your say in our snap poll at https://twitter.com/printweek/status/1116232195985879040
Peter Gunning, CEO, Grafenia: "What a mess. The difficulty is, there were so many opposing views of what leaving the EU meant to people. Another six months of arguing isn’t going to reach a consensus. And we haven’t even started the “real” trade negotiations yet. The wisest way to use this six months is a second referendum. Give people the choice of ways to exit – Norway-Double-Division, Japan-Minus-Three, Canada-Multiplied-by-Seven or whatever. And an option to choose the deal we currently have."
Mike Dobson, director of public affairs at the Confederation of Paper Industries: “With an extension of Article 50 until Halloween, subject to conditions, we sincerely hope that an accommodation can be found amongst parliamentarians that leads to the avoidance of ‘no deal’. Politicians need to stop ranting, ridiculing and rebuking each other’s positions forthwith. It is time for measured talk and a willingness to compromise for the good of the country; we must not find ourselves without an agreed way forward when the next deadline approaches. It has been said many times, but it is no less true today than almost three years ago when the referendum result was announced, businesses need certainty. For the UK’s paper-based industries, that have a combined turnover of circa £11.5 billion, no matter what form Brexit finally takes it needs to ensure that a positive relationship is maintained with the EU27 and that frictionless trade is in place from day one.”