EM local group join with Labour MP in Westminster to host 'The Business of Brexit'

Published on November 23, 2023

Words by Phil Carey, Secretary of EM Wandsworth & Merton.

This week, EM Wandsworth & Merton joined Marsha de Cordova MP for Battersea in Westminster to host The Business of Brexit: The Impact of Leaving the EU on Businesses in Battersea and Wandsworth.

Marsha de Cordova introduced the discussion aimed at hearing how businesses in and around her constituency have been affected by Brexit, as part of the cumulative impact assessment that she felt was needed. She welcomed the commitment - from Sir Keir Starmer and David Lammy - to renegotiate our relationship with the EU if forming the next Government, but recognised that a key question would be the EU’s willingness to engage.

Barbara Callender, Chair of EMWM, outlined what the branch had already established from its surveys of local business opinions in 2018 and 2021. 

Sir Nick Harvey, CEO of the European Movement UK, condemned the madness of the UK having thrown away its unique special status. He highlighted the damage to the UK’s public finances: even a cautious estimate of lost economic activity pointed to a £26bn annual shortfall for the Exchequer, equivalent to 5p in the £ on Income Tax. The remedy, he stated, would have to be in three stages: the Government re-applying for accession to the EU; the EU being convinced in the UK’s commitment, and the public voting resoundingly in favour this.

The meeting then heard from three local business leaders:

  • Ash Sarswat, General Manager of the Pestana Chelsea Bridge Hotel, explained the financial and administrative burdens that Brexit has imposed on recruitment, including £1,000 for each new employee’s sponsorship licence and the onerous English language proficiency requirement. He has had to curtail guest services as a result and has to cap the hotel’s occupancy rate at 80%.
  • Kirsty Leighton, Group CEO of the PR agency Milk & Honey, presented just as grim a picture for professional services: finance has become harder to access, and firms are feeling the effect of the UK turning its back on the rich pool of talent in the EU.  Brexit continues to be a drag on growth, and has also damaged the UK’s international reputation.
  • Sergio Verrillo, Director of Blackbook Winery, leads a business which is struggling to maintain its export markets in the EU and has been hit by disruption to Europe-wide supply chains for winemaking. He wanted to see specific visas for EU labour to provide some relief to the severe pressure on the harvesting workforce in England.

The owner of a cosmetics manufacturer in Tooting (Tony Richards, Skin of Love) expressed his frustration at losing easy access to a potential export market of 27 countries; and the head of the West London Chamber of Commerce, Alan Wright, argued that creating a free trade zone centred on Heathrow could restore some competitiveness for exporting businesses in the wider area.

Further discussion across the group identified the concerns of young people as critical to determining strategy; and noted the wisdom of shifting to a clean slate and focusing on joining an attractive trading opportunity enjoyed by our neighbours, rather than refighting past battles.

Marsha de Cordova concluded by welcoming the constructive and realistic nature of the discussion and the reinforcement it provided to the Shadow Cabinet’s understanding of the challenges. She stated her personal commitment to working with the EM team to address the ongoing problems created by the UK leaving the EU.

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