June 15th was Beer Day Britain, and with the EU Referendum coming just a week later, there has never been a more critical time for many British business sectors, including the hospitality and pub trades.
Nobody really knows what will happen on June 23rd or in the months and years that follow it – and the consensus among many economists is that little to nothing would change overnight either way.
However, there are certain topics that clearly rank higher on the agenda for publicans, and while nothing is set in stone, here are some of the main issues and what might happen after June 23rd.
While domestic alcohol duty is set by the UK government, some people claim that the ease of access to cheap alcohol in France via the now traditional ‘booze cruise’ has helped to keep beer duty down in the UK, to avoid pushing consumers out to the continental market.
Does this mean duty would rise following Brexit? Perhaps not – it seems unlikely the UK-French border would become significantly more difficult to cross, and the same economic factors would still influence the market in the neighbouring countries.
Access to employees could become more difficult – many citizens of other EU countries come to live in the UK and take lower-paid roles with unsociable hours, which can be more difficult to fill from the permanent UK workforce.
This is especially true in pub kitchens, which often have an international crew working in them.
The main beer brands are now brewed under licence in the UK, but others – especially wine – are imported from overseas.
Brexit could lead to new levels of bureaucracy in import markets, although again it is unlikely that international suppliers would want to cut off the major UK market for alcoholic beverages by making it too difficult to buy from abroad.
Britain’s tourist trade could benefit substantially from departing the EU, especially if there is a slump in the pound as has been predicted.
This would see other world currencies become stronger compared to sterling, potentially boosting international visitor numbers to the UK, as well as likely driving ‘staycation’ numbers higher, which is all good news for publicans.
Stay or Go?
As mentioned at the start of this article, nobody knows exactly what will happen either way – and neither option is likely to prove wholly good or bad for the industry.
WSTA want to remain in the EU, Wetherspoons want to leave, and the BBPA have been neutral on the issue, highlighting the balance of opinions throughout some of the biggest names in the sector; many people will be surprised (and many disappointed) when the final results are announced following the vote itself on June 23rd.