Another day, another major boss of a major firm one might expect to be well-disposed to the Conservatives voices complaints of Brexit red tape.
Marks & Spencer chairman Archie Norman, a former Tory MP – no bed-wetting Remoaner he – is quoted extensively on the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph, the party’s in-house journal, in what it dubs a “broadside” on plans to ease post-Brexit trade.
In a letter to foreign secretary James Cleverly which has made its way to the paper, Norman singles out proposals for packaging changes aimed at avoiding lengthy customs checks at the effective border created by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Forcing companies to put “Northern Ireland only” or “UK-wide” labels on packages to avoid burdensome customs checks would drive up costs for supermarkets and producers, Mr Norman argues in the letter. He is quoted as saying: “The overbearing costs of a labelling regime would raise prices and reduce choice for consumers, further disadvantage UK farmers and suppliers, and impact UK retailers’ competitiveness in other international markets.
“In a digital era – when one tap of a mobile can check-in a customer at a store and locate their order in under 60 seconds – it’s baffling that the government and EU have rewound four decades to discuss an expensive ‘solution’ involving stickers and labelling.”
The reason why this should be so concerning with Rishi Sunak and his government is not just that Marks & Spencer cannot be dismissed as some sort of woke worthy, like a high street Innocent Drinks. It is that Norman’s is just one of a number of business voices one would expect to be cheerleading for the Conservatives making public their dissatisfaction with their handling of Brexit.
Sir James Dyson, an ardent Brexiteer, last week criticised the government’s “stupid” economic approach, while the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry questioned its lack of “strategy”.
And last month the British Chambers of Commerce said firms were still wrestling with barriers to trade with the EU following the UK’s decision to leave.
And all this is happening while Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves continue a charm offensive on business, with some apparent success.
“Fuck business,” Boris Johnson said famously when leaders spoke out on his approach to Brexit. How will business respond going into an election when, in his single-minded determination to maintain the hardest of Brexits regardless of its cost, Sunak actually does it?