August 13, 2019 / 10:30 AM / a month ago

Next boss says Britain can avoid no-deal Brexit disorder: BBC

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain can avoid disorder and chaos in the event of a no-deal Brexit because a step-up in the government’s contingency planning meant the economy was better prepared, the boss of clothing retailer Next said on Tuesday.

Next chief executive Simon Wolfson, a prominent leave supporter, told the BBC he hoped new Prime Minister Boris Johnson could secure a deal with the European Union before the Oct. 31 exit date.

But he said the government’s increased focus on contingency planning, including simplified customs and border procedures, meant the United Kingdom was much better prepared than it was for the original March 29 Brexit deadline.

Wolfson has been CEO of clothing retailer Next for 18 years and as a Conservative peer sits in the upper house of Britain’s parliament, giving him an insight into the workings of the government and the impact its policies have on consumers. He had previously warned of the perils of a no-deal Brexit.

“We’re a long way from gridlock and chaos. I think the fact that (UK tax authority) HMRC have introduced these transitional measures will make an enormous difference,” he said.

“We are rapidly moving from the gridlock and chaos camp into the well prepared camp. To have the government and civil service that is now determinedly endeavoring to make sure that we are prepared is really important.”

He said the government of Theresa May had failed to adequately prepare for a no-deal, a situation he said was now being addressed by her successor.

Wolfson said he much preferred a deal to no-deal. “But I’m much less frightened of no-deal if government’s well prepared. We’ve got every indication that they are now taking that seriously.”

He told the BBC any deal struck by Johnson with the EU was likely to be last minute. “In the vast majority of deals I’ve done, if the deadline is midnight, the deal gets done at 11.55, but we need to have nerves of steel and prepare ourselves for either outcome,” he said.

Though British ports could wave all goods through, Wolfson conceded that the UK government had little influence on what would happen at continental ports. He said Next had moved all its imports and exports out of the French port of Calais to other ports.

Wolfson’s stance contrasts starkly with dire warnings from some business groups.

Last week Britain’s food and drink lobby group warned the country will experience shortages of some fresh foods for weeks or even months if a disorderly no-deal Brexit leaves perishable produce rotting in lorries at ports.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and James Davey; Editing by Kate Holton and Janet Lawrence

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