Retail giant Next’s chief executive Lord Wolfson has called on the Government for more clarity around Brexit preparations, and said making sure ports run smoothly is important for the “health of the UK economy”.
Wolfson, a Brexiteer who has led High Street bellweather Next since 2001, made the comments as his firm reported higher sales and upped profits guidance, despite the virus crisis.
Wolfson told the Standard one of the most important things is that the Government does everything it can “to make sure the ports operate smoothly. It’s important for us, business, and the entire country”.
He has previously said a no-deal Brexit would only bring about “mild disruption”. His firm today said: “The biggest single risk of a no-deal Brexit is that our ports do not cope effectively with increased levels of administration.”
A number of firms have concerns about delays at borders impacting getting products in and out of Britain in a no-deal scenario.
Next, which has around 500 shops and imports products from countries including China, Turkey and India, wants the Government to ensure it has the people and systems in place to manage higher workloads at ports.
The high street chain also addressed other areas around Brexit preparations in its third-quarter update.
Regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol which aims to avoid the introduction of a hard border in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit, Next said: “There is, as yet, no clear guidance on what administrative measures will need to be put in place, but we do not anticipate it will present a material threat to our trade in Northern Ireland or Eire.”
It added: “However, we would encourage the UK Government to provide clarification of the process as soon as possible.”
Next said a no-deal Brexit is not the firm’s preferred outcome. But, it said: “As long as our ports continue to operate effectively, we do not believe that a no-deal Brexit poses a material threat to profitability.” Next also warned about a steep increase in import duty costs.
Next forecast pre-tax profits of £365 million for the year to January 2021. That is £65 million higher than previously guided.
Sales rose 2.8% in the third quarter, led by online growth. However Next cautioned sales could be impacted if more lockdown rules come in.
Shares in Next gained 164p to 6254p.