db Brexit Interview: Miles Beale, WSTA

Just over a year after the Brexit vote, db catches up with Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA),  to find out the latest developments in the aftermath of a chaotic General Election.

Miles Beale, speaking at last year’s WSTA conference on Brexit

As the old adage goes, a week is a long time in politics. So given we’re now just over a year on from the momentous Brexit vote on 24 June 2016, it’s fair to say that the land has shifted considerably during that time, not least in the last few weeks.

Speaking to Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade (WSTA) shortly before the General Election, he seemed more optimistic than at any time since we’d discussed the vote the evening before the results came through. But as he pointed out, if anything was likely to scupper a good, rational deal that would benefit of all parties across the UK and Europe, it was politics – meaning primarily Europe’s national heads of state need to give the UK “a bloody nose” to protect the wider integrity of the EU. And though it might have been politics that set a proverbial cat among the pigeons, it is perhaps not quite in the way that Beale – as well as the polls and indeed the country – expected.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks of unexpected upheaval and the emerging picture has been somewhat less clear.

“Am I more optimistic than when we last spoke? I don’t think I am, no, am I more pessimistic? Possibly a little bit,” Beale tells db. “My rationale is that the previous May government’s line on Brexit had moderated its stance over time, talking about divorce after the Article 50 period, trying to get a trade agreement asap and exiting thereafter. They talked about transitional arrangements just before the election in a way that they weren’t a year ago, so that was an improvement.”

There has also been a softening stance from EU heads in recent weeks, but Beale says this is likely to only be temporary.

“I think ‘laughing stock’ is a bit strong, but it’s not far off,” he notes, ruefully. “You are less inclined to want to give a defenceless opponent a bloody nose than you were before, but over time our position will harden and we will have to go in there and fight for what we want – so the argument for a bloody nose will return.”

Miles Beale, chief exec of the WSTA [picture credit: www.sarahlondonphotography.co.uk, via WSTA]

Currently, there is “nothing certain” coming out from Whitehall, Beale says.

“From government there is not very much because it all too new and people are still working out what the political ramifications are. But in a strange way, it’s rather simple – the Tory government will have to take more than its own party with it in order to get anything thorough the House of Commons – so everyone is more tentative, everyone is less certain, and everyone is more influential,” he explained.

Whereas before the election, Beale argued that the government had ‘clicked into gear’, post-election, the lack of a steer from government in the two weeks running up to talks between David Davies and Michel Barnier, progress had slowed a little due to the turmoil and confusion.

“But I don’t think they were ready before, so it’s not real difference,” he adds.

And given that the negotiations had been unlikely to get going in earnest until October – after the German elections – Beale doesn’t see this as too much of a problem.

“Michel Barnier and the EU institutions can do their thing, but ultimately that is a precursor, as it is the heads of state who will sit around a big table and thrash it out in the end.”

Meanwhile businesses are even less happy with the lack of clarity than they were before the election, although as Beale points out. “That will improve, but not quickly.”

But while the government may have changed and their position may be in flux, the position of the WSTA clearly has not, and is not.

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One Response to “db Brexit Interview: Miles Beale, WSTA”

  1. John Lnag says:

    The negotiations cannot succeed with a tariff free trade agreement as the UK also wants trade agreements with the rest of the world – this will be seen by the likes of the USA as a back door into the EU single market – sell goods into the UK which can then be resold into the EU tariff free. The EU can’t let that happen. I expect by November we will be walking away from the talks.

    On the bright side this will put up barriers to stop the current raft of EU retailers illegally selling into the UK evading excise duty and VAT, such as Uvinum.co.uk and Weinbaule.de (and hundreds more) so that side will at least be good for the UK wine and spirits trade.

    If we go to tariffs, why can’t the Treasury reimburse UK businesses for any tariffs paid, out of the tariff revenue it will raise on the current £60+billion deficit? No UK business would have to suffer, and there would be a substantial sum left over too.

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