What Future will Brexit Mould for Plastic?

Last week’s Brexit decision brought months of speculation and debate to a close, however the Leave result has sparked increased uncertainty and fuelled political tensions amongst businesses as well as individuals. Research into public sentiment was a crucial part of the campaigning, and the retail display market was no exception in finding out its members’ opinions on the hot topic.

In May 2016 the SDEA released the results of a survey which revealed that well over 75% of its members believed that remaining in the EU would be beneficial to their business. An average of 8 out of 10 businesses said they would be voting to remain in the union with the remaining 2 being split between Leave and ‘undecided’.

SDEA Director Lawrence Cutler said in May that the results were a comment on the level of integration the industry has in Europe, with significant imports and exports being a common thread for UK display businesses. He continued, “our members clearly value these partnerships and the business they bring and that voting to stay in will secure those good trading relationships for the future.”

A number of EU decisions have impacted the industry, the most recent being an EC decision on identifying endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) as well as concentration limits for hazardous chemicals in medical devices.

Given the survey results from just one month ago, members would have been disappointed in last Friday’s result for the UK to leave the European Union. Many other industries had echoed that remaining within the EU was the best possible outcome of the referendum for their business, however the incredibly divided vote (52% leave to 48% remain) has caused many to ask whether the public voted in a personal or professional capacity. It would be interesting to know how many businesses (if they had their own vote!) would have voted Leave across different sectors – would the SDEA’s 80% Remain percentage have been representative of business at large?

Mike Boswell, Chairman of the Polymer Compounders and Distributors Group commented: “the implications of a weaker GBP is price inflation for plastic raw materials where prices are typically Euro or USD denominated and this will certainly start to impact prices from the beginning of July”. He contrasted this, however, by pointing out that the devaluation of the pound will make the UK more competitive which, as with the 2008 crisis, has the potential to be extremely favourable to the plastics sector in particular.

It remains to be seen how long the UK will take to negotiate its exit, and therefore how long businesses will have to adjust to the monumental change. Although the referendum’s impact on the industry waits to be seen, it is clear that trading relationships will be tested in the years to come. The British Plastics Federation insisted that they will continue to work alongside the government to ensure the plastics industry is both protected and involved in the changes ahead.