Europe brings out the worst in the British, whether politics or football. Britain’s fashion leaders were not among the English football fans rampaging in Marseille at the start of the Euros championship, though Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley could probably throw a plastic chair with the best of them. But they are front row for the Brexit (British-exit), among a myriad of businesses likely to suffer from a vote to leave the European Union.
Last week the British Fashion Council released the results of its survey of 290 UK designer businesses: 90 per cent preferred to Remain. The Creative Industries Federation survey yielded a similar result, with 96% support to Remain in Europe. And during London Collections: Men, designers including Christopher Raeburn, Daniel W Fletcher, E.Tautz, Lou Dalton and Sibling flew the flag for staying in.
Brexit’s poster child is Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-immigrant UKIP party, a kind of Margate pier Donald Trump so pure in Englishness that his immigrant surname is still pronounced the French way. His Leavers want to rewind Britain to a time when the only European retailer on the high street was C&A, a store group banished long ago for failing to be fashionable. Farage’s damn lies and statistics have amplified the fears and emotions of the mob, a portion of the public so moronic that they despise Brussels while drinking Stella Artois lager from Belgium two pints at a time. Leave appeals to people spooked by the pace of change.
If Brexit goes ahead, Britain would endure two years of negotiated departure and whatever spiteful tricks the remaining member states dish out (French president Francois Hollande has warned darkly of “consequences”). If a departure deal isn’t reached, World Trade Organisation rules kick in, which mean tariffs on Britain’s trade with the EU, making it more expensive to buy and more complicated to sell.
And there remains the question of, how far could Britain go? Stay as part of the single market, cook up a deal like Norway’s – which means following nearly all EU regulations including the free movement of labour, without any say in shaping those rules, all the while tossing pounds by the truckload into the budget. That won’t appease the Leavers, but Parliament makes that decision... and 80 per cent of MPs prefer to Remain. British politicos, then, are likely to demand something similar to the status quo, especially if the economy becomes rocky. And meanwhile, the clothing retail climate is at its worst since 2012, profits only rolling in at the high end, the Primark end and to specialty brands.
As with last year’s Scottish vote, the key problem is uncertainty. No-one knows how good or how bad a Brexit will be, planning becomes a nightmare. Confidence suffers. Maybe it is everything. Or, maybe it doesn’t mean a thing.
Oliver Horton is a journalist based in Islington, London, and tells stories for Sportswear International since more than a decade.