Suppliers debate EU referendum

Leading names from the KBB industry have aired their views on the referendum to decide whether Britain should remain in the European Union.

Voting takes place on June 23, but speaking at kbb Birmingham, Bathroom Brands chief executive Patrick Riley (pictured) admitted he was “sitting on the fence” on the issue.

“I believe in free markets,” he said, “but if you cut through all the nonsense over net costs and consider what the UK pays to the EU, as opposed to what they get back, it’s 0.7% of GDP. So, rationally, to gain 0.7% would I make a huge jump and leave the EU? No, I’d stay.

“But if you look at the other side and take the past five years, over 80% of all jobs created in this country were created by businesses with less than 50 people. Those businesses tend not to export at all. So the other side is, if you can reduce the red tape in the UK and stimulate the sub-50 companies, you could create even more employment.

“If I had a vote today, I’d stay in on the basis that if you can’t work out a clear reward, why would you take the risk? But it’s a very fine line and there’s a very good chance the people of the UK will vote to get out.”

Riley said there were other issues linked to the referendum that many people hadn’t considered.

“For all the migrant issues, there are 1.8 million Brits living in central Europe, what happens to them? Do they have to come home? I’m not sure everyone’s thought it through.

“I’m fascinated by it. For me, it’s all about economics. In 10-15 years’ time, is Mr Jones on the high street going to be better or worse off? I can’t work it out, although I’m reading like mad. I guess more and more data will come up, but my vote is one of 40 million.

“What the British people want is what they’ll get. It’s up to the politicians to bring them up to speed. If you vote to leave, the next thing will be Scotland voting to join.”

Wayne Dance, managing director of distributor In House, whose brands include German kitchen supplier Schuller and German bathroom supplier Pelipal, claimed pulling out of Europe would be a “crazy” decision.

“I’ve been in the industry for 35 years and I’ve never known the market as buoyant as it is,” he said. “I just hope the referendum doesn’t have the killjoy factor on it. It would be a disaster to pull out of the EU. It will destabilise the whole of Europe. We’re strong, the Germans are strong. OK, the Spanish and Portuguese market has declined but we’re underpinning it. I think it would be crazy to pull out of it. We could replicate 2008 prices again. It could possibly be worse.”

Dance agreed with Riley that public ignorance over the issue was a major concern and called for more discussion on the subject at government level.

“I hope [a Brexit] won’t happen, but I don’t know. I’m a great believer in freedom of rights but the downside is you’ve got a lot of people making decisions on something they know nothing about. That’s the problem.

“Will it happen, I hope not? I wouldn’t be absolutely shocked if it did, but I think the people who’ve got a few bob, and got the ability to convince, should convince people not to do it. It needs more debate.

“What it needs is for someone to explain to the layman what it means. It’s like the Scottish wanting independence. Oil prices have tumbled, so where would they be if they’d become independent?

“If I was in government, I’d be explaining the issue on every TV programme so people understand what this all means.”

Neil Clarke, Franke UK managing director, was also in favour of remaining in the EU. “We’re a Swiss company who are not part of the EU and it took years to trade successfully with other parts of Europe,” he said. “We don’t want to see a Brexit happen and it would lead to the break-up of the UK.

“The scaremongering over the refugee crisis is silly. It’s a very short-term way of thinking.”

For more views on this issue, see the April issue of kbbreview

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