If there is one thing Boris Johnson loves, it’s a photo opportunity.
Last year’s EU referendum campaign was no different, and as the clock counted down to the historic vote on June 23, the Vote Leave campaign were desperate to get him posing for photos in factories and warehouses across the country.
But seven months on from the campaign, and with Theresa May now making clear the UK will be leaving the single market and customs union, are those businesses that played host to Boris and friends still backing quitting the EU?
Europa Logistics’ Andrew Baxter welcomed Boris to his warehouse in Dartford, Kent, in March, where the then-London Mayor jumped into the cab of a Vote Leave branded HGV and drove it along the forecourt.
Yet last week, Baxter took to the airwaves to warn the government about plans to leave the customs union in the wake of the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech.
“The risk is that what that does puts delays into the distribution process and adds extra delays of goods coming into the UK or our goods going into the European market. Obviously that’s not good from a trading perspective as in today’s world everyone wants to order things today and get them delivered tomorrow. If in future they can order things today and get them delivered in 48 hours, that’s an issue and that can impact trade…the government needs to recognise the seriousness of this issue.” - Andrew Baxter, Today, BBC Radio 4, 20th January 2017
Huff Post UK spoke to other businesses visited by Vote Leave in the campaign to see if they had any concerns about the direction the government was headed.
David Nieper fashion house – visited by Boris Johnson and Gisela Stuart
Managing Director Christopher Nieper told Huff Post UK that while sales went down in the week leading up to the referendum, there was a boost post-vote.
“The last part of 2016, we had a 16 per cent rise from the EU, 19% from the UK,” says Nieper.
The company employs more than 250 people in Derbyshire, and also has staff in France and Germany.
After consulting with clients in the EU, Nieper says: “They came back saying it won’t make a difference. They aren’t really concerned.”
Indeed, the fall in the value of the pound since Brexit benefited the clothing company, which makes a third of its sales in the EU.
When it came to May’s announcement that Brexit means quitting the single market, Nieper was not at all surprised.
“That was clear in the referendum campaign,” he says, before adding: “What’s not clear is out of the customs union and the single market whether we pay tariffs. That’s the bit that will be different.”
He adds: “I don’t fear it. As a small or medium size business the biggest challenge is finding the customers. The tariffs are a minor thing.”
REIDsteel – visited by Boris Johnson
Like the boss of David Nieper, the managing director of REIDsteel is happy with the direction the government is heading.
Simon Boyd is pleased the UK is leaving the “over regulation and the protectionism” of the EU behind, adding: “It’s been easier to export to Mongolia than it has been to export to France.”
With 80 per cent of REIDsteel’s business coming from its export division, the weaker pound has also been of benefit.
Boyd says: “Our exports have doubled since the referendum result.”
The Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech prompted a reaction of “Crikey! That’s good!” from Boyd, who salutes the clarity that May has now provided.
Reflecting on the campaign, Boyd says: “It was crystal clear we would be leaving the single market. It might not have been clear in some people’s minds about the customs union but when you explain to people what that means the penny drops straight away.”
Despite being an enthusiastic supporter of May’s plan, there is one area Boyd would like to see dealt with.
“We want certainty for EU nationals that are working for us that their positions are secure,” he says.
“We have told our staff that if anyone tries to put them out of the country they would have to get through us first. We would resist tooth and nail.”
Simon Jersey clothing and uniforms– visited by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel
James Saunders, managing director of clothing and uniform company Simon Jersey, was slightly cooler in his enthusiasm for the government’s plans than the other two business Huff Post UK spoke to.
Saunders, who oversees 150 employees in Accrington, Lancashire, is not happy with the pounds fall since June 23.
“We are a net importer so currency is not great for us at the moment. If we could have dampened down some reaction form traders we could have a better 2017,” he says.
Saunders said that 25% of the company’s trade is export, with 20% of that to the EU. He points to countries such as Bangladesh as examples of places he can do business tariff-free.
Like the other businesspeople, he fully understood that leaving the EU meant leaving the single market.
“Theresa May is quite clear that Brexit means Brexit.,” he says. “You can’t vote to leave an organisation but then wish to enjoy all of the benefits. I didn’t really expect her to say she wished to remain part of the common market.”
Yet despite May’s Lancaster House speech, he still believes the UK is “still in a period of uncertainty; it’s very difficult for everybody.”
Saunders is sympathetic to May’s desire to keep her negotiation cards “firmly close” to her chest, and admits that the future is “quite exciting”.