The immediate reverberations of one of the most unexpected results in British political history are as shocking as they are inevitable.
The financial markets are in panic, the pound is plummeting at a rate not seen since 1967 under the Wilson government and share price falls are wiping billions off the stock market.
Yet while social and traditional media channels are awash with suggestions the world is changing forever, it is not. As many retail chiefs have been keen to point out, in stores up and down the country, it’s business as usual.
Few but the most fervent supporters of the EU would reject the notion it was an imperfect institution or that many of the world’s fastest growing and successful businesses are based in markets outside the Union.
Political and business leaders must now carve out a period of calm to recognise and capitalise on opportunities an exit offers, while working furiously to protect the billions of pounds that are traded between Britain and continental Europe each year.
“If ever retail’s natural instincts for leadership, hard work and ingenuity were required, then this will be the sector’s defining moment in modern times”
Retailers have a proven capacity for creating clarity out of uncertainty and reorganising and capitalising on shifting socio-economic circumstances. And our sector’s unique position as the country’s largest private employer and the huge social reach of its brands make it essential retail is at the vanguard of efforts to forge a vibrant vision for the future.
If ever retail’s natural instincts for leadership, hard work and ingenuity were required, then this will be the sector’s defining moment in modern times.
In the following days, retailers, politicians and financiers will be in fire-fighting mode as they try to reach an uneasy status quo before negotiations around the UK’s exit from the European Union begin.
And in the meantime, retail bosses will be wrestling with the prospect of the triple threat of cost price inflation, a slowdown in population growth and the impact on consumer spending.
Uncertainty has always characterised the Leave campaign, a symptom of the fragmented political support an exit has attracted.
That uncertainty has undoubtedly prompted fear among some but it should also inspire us to think afresh.
“For all the turmoil wreaking havoc in markets today, a new path can be found. And, the short-term uncertainty must be met with confidence”
For all the turmoil wreaking havoc in markets today, a new path can be found. And, the short-term uncertainty must be met with confidence and a sense of purpose that a liberal, prosperous, progressive future is in our grasp.
In a sign of his political ambitions now that Prime Minster David Cameron has announced his intention to step down, the Leave figurehead Boris Johnson delivered an uncharacteristically statesmen-like speech this morning. He called for calm, insisting there was no need for haste and reassuring those who fear for the UK’s future that a vote to leave would not lead to an isolationist stance.
Retail leaders too must now assure staff and customers that the country has the necessary skills and determination to carve out a new, if unexpected, path.
Consumers at home and abroad will not turn their back on businesses that continue to deliver great products in ways that excite and delight them.
But trade in the short term will waiver until the certainty of the country’s network of trading relationships – both macro and micro – becomes clear.
The British people have made their decision. It is now up to the country’s political and business leaders to make that decision right.
- Chris Brook-Carter is editor-in-chief of Retail Week
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