Unilever : New alliances form to fight the hard Brexiters

Grocer John Papworth is trying to drum up custom at his fruit and veg stall in Chapel Market in Islington, north London, on a sunny Saturday morning. It is hard going. “It’s the only game in the world where the price changes daily, he says. “But now, the pound being so weak is really starting to affect us. I don’t like saying it’s all because of Brexit [which he voted for], but the pound’s fall has definitely made things much worse. Our suppliers have got to pay more, so we’ve got to pay more.”An elderly woman shopper overhears him and says: “It is all thanks to the people who voted Leave!” At the other end of the market, Peter Fleming, a florist, points to his stock of potted plants which all came from the Netherlands. “It’s this week with the pound stuff that it’s started to really bite. This week it’s gone up 15%. If it gets any worse, we’re going to have to start passing the cost on – or buying less. This is just the start – and all because we’ve voted out.”Over the past few days, the downside of sterling’s fall, driven at least in part by fears that the UK is heading for a hard Brexit, has begun to hit home not just across the floor of the House of Commons and in currency trading rooms but also on the high street.Midweek there was “Marmitegate”, when Tesco removed a series of products from its shelves in a dispute with its supplier, Unilever, over rising prices. The consumer brands company briefly halted deliveries after the supermarket refused to stump up price rises of about 10% for a range of household products and groceries. A deal was eventually agreed and supplies resumed.Political messages caused currency gyrations that in turn hit consumers. Every utterance by a government minister about Brexit affected the markets. By Tuesday, sterling was down more than 18% against the dollar since 23 June. The pound sank to $1.213, down from $1.488 on the day of the referendum.It is not all gloom out there. The Daily Mail and Daily Express certainly don’t think so. They point out that the stock market is way above its 23 June level and that the economy is in rude good health as we head out of the EU, though this view is not shared by the chancellor, Philip Hammond. The Mail has branded those who warn of dangers ahead the “Bremoaners”.But as Theresa May’s government prepares for what looks like an exit from the single market, while denying MPs a say over the issue, it is not just remainers who are worried. In the Commons, in the rightwing media and among the business community, new and in some cases surprising alliances are forming to fight for a soft landing.Even Conservative MPs who backed Brexit voiced their worries on Wednesday, siding with Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish Nationalist and Green colleagues. Anti-EU newspaper columnists in pro-Brexit papers were speaking out too, and in the high court a group of QCs warned that Brexit was being driven through in an unconstitutional, undemocratic way.The worries among politicians, businesspeople and opinion formers are broadly twofold: first, that MPs in parliament might be bypassed when the country decides what kind of Brexit we pursue; and, second, that May and her ministers seem so ready to ditch single-market membership in order to control immigration.The Labour MP Pat McFadden, a leading member of the Open Europe campaign that is battling to keep close ties with the EU, said: “This was the week when the reality of Brexit began to bite – in our economy, in our parliament and in our public debate. Issues that featured little before 23 June – like the value of the currency, the impact on prices, and what’s at stake with the single market – have come to the fore.”What they’re saying:
Rightwing commentators
After campaigning for Brexitand trumpeting the economy’s resilience in its aftermath, some commentators on the right now sound queasy about bypassing parliament, ignoring the interests of the 48% who voted Remain, and turning our backs on the single market.Veteran columnist Christopher Booker has been savage about the EU for decades but now appears worried that Britain is about to leave in a manner that will seriously damage the economy. On Monday he wrote that “those who have done their homework” had worked out that “the only interim arrangement that could conceivably work is the soft Brexit option”. His preferred version is to remain in the European Economic Area, then applying “to join the two richest countries per capita in Europe, Norway and Switzerland, in the European Free Trade Area (Efta)”.Philip Johnston wrote in the Telegraph about the need to involve MPs: “If the ‘will of the people’ is to supplant that of parliament then we must move towards a plebiscite democracy and away from a parliamentary one. Is that what we want? The alternative is that the executive decides these matters on its own with no proper accountability. That really is a democratic deficit. Actually, let’s not mince words. That’s dictatorship.”And the Eurosceptic sage Charles Moore, former Spectator and Telegraph editor, wrote: “May in her [conference] speech did not try hard enough to mingle the victorious and the defeated in the EU referendum. After all, 48% of those voting, including one Theresa May, lost. They are not a negligible rump. Nor … are they unpatriotic. They should not be outlawed from the next chapter of our island story.”Business leaders
Many leaders of big business were appalled by the Brexit vote but hadn’t in their worst dreams imagined that it would mean leaving the single market. Ministerial talk over the past week has, however, made that seem increasingly likely, triggering sterling’s fall. The period of post-referendum calm is over.Leading the chorus of concern last week was Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI. “What we have heard over the past few days, if you add up the messages, are signs that the door is being closed on the open economy, which has helped fuel investment. It’s very clear from conversations we are having that the world is watching. International investors are watching. Companies here are watching. And they are reading a lot into the signals of this government about how committed they are to creating a strong economy.”The EEF (formerly the Engineering Employers’ Federation) warned of disastrous results if the UK leaves the single market and shuts the door on EU migrants: “Rushing into a deal at any cost would be calamitous for business … We must protect access to the single market and the ability of businesses to hire and deploy staff as they need to.”Car manufacturer Nissan received reassurances from the government that it would not be harmed by Brexit, and would not have to pull investment plans. But doubts persist.MPs of all stripes
Surprising alliances were struck in the Commons last week, with Tory MPs, including some who backed Brexit, teaming up with Labour, Scottish Nationalist and Liberal Democrat colleagues.The Eurosceptic hard core who caused trouble for successive Tory leaders is being replaced by an equally awkward squad of soft Brexiters. Some want parliament involved, others stress the importance of the single market, and plenty want both.Andrew Tyrie, the pro-Brexit Conservative MP who chairs the treasury select committee, told the House: “We want a high degree of access to the single market, in my view. To fall back immediately on World Trade Organisation rules would risk an economic shock and certainly an economic downturn, given the high degree of trade integration at the moment between Britain and the EU.”Stephen Phillips, the Conservative member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who backed Brexit, emerged suddenly as a rebel. “I and many others did not exercise our vote in the referendum so as to restore the sovereignty of this parliament only to see what we regarded as the tyranny of the European Union replaced by that of a government that apparently wishes to ignore the views of the house on the most important issue facing the nation.”Labour sharpened up its act as Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, and its new Brexit spokesman, argued that his party was not trying to stop Brexit but wanted MPs to be involved in deciding the least damaging route to the exit door. Plenty of Tories agreed.Traders and consumers
Theresa May has reassured Leave voters that she will take Britain out of the EU by saying “Brexit means Brexit” but if people begin to think it also means rising prices, more expensive holidays and higher inflation, she may need to find another catchphrase.On Tuesday, ITV ran an item on its main evening news bulletin from a London market and canvassed views on the effect of sterling’s fall on traders and shoppers. A fruit seller said he’d had to push up the price of tangerines by 20%. “At the weekend it was £1 a pound, now we are having to go £1.20.”A florist said the price of flowers from the Netherlands had doubled in three months and she was concerned that she would lose business.This was before “Marmitegate”, when Tesco removed products from its shelves in a dispute with its supplier, Unilever, which wanted to increase the price of its household goods and groceries by 10%.The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said he would tolerate inflation going up “a bit”. Now market analysts expect it to rise from its current 0.6% level to above 2.5% over the next two years. With wages unlikely to follow suit, will hard Brexit still look like such a good idea?Senior lawyers
Senior lawyers last week launched a case in the high court, arguing that ministers acting alone should not be able to trigger Article 50, the process that will lead to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.They argued that parliament should be involved in that process and that it should not be done through the use of the royal prerogative, as currently planned. If the claimants – led by Gina Miller, a businesswoman and investment manager – win, the case could throw a spanner in the works of Theresa May’s plans to start two years of formal exit talks with Brussels early next year, without a vote by MPs and peers.David Pannick QC told the court: “Prerogative powers may not be used by the minister [David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the EU] to remove rights established by act of parliament.”Lawyers will also argue that the rights of European citizens, including children who are “lawfully resident” in the UK, should be protected in domestic law by an act of parliament prior to the government issuing the notice of intended exit.Helen Mountfield QC, representing the crowd-funded People’s Challenge, which includes EU citizens living in the UK and Britons living on the continent, said: “The constitution of our parliamentary democracy, unwritten as it is, is predicated on the sovereignty of parliament and the court working as an arbiter. Notification of a withdrawal inevitably leads to the removal of the rights of UK citizens, whatever they may be.”Copyright © 2016 observer.theguardian.com. All rights reserved., source Guardian Newspaper

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