A Business Owner's View On Brexit : Planet Money Today is Brexit Day. As of 11:00pm tonight (GMT), the UK will no longer be part of the European Union. We spoke to a small business owner about what that might mean.
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A Business Owner's View On Brexit

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A Business Owner's View On Brexit

A Business Owner's View On Brexit

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith, and I am joined by our editor, Paddy Hirsch. And today...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

VANEK SMITH: You've brought us a bell, Paddy. Care to explain? Is this a somber...

PADDY HIRSCH, BYLINE: Yes.

VANEK SMITH: Are we - can I ask for whom the bell tolls?

HIRSCH: Yes, you can. The bell tolls, Stacey, for Brexit. It tolls for Britain's membership of the European Union, a 47-year partnership that ends tonight.

VANEK SMITH: It tolls for thee, kind of.

HIRSCH: Well, not for me.

VANEK SMITH: Is it, like, church bells? Like, what bells are we talking about?

HIRSCH: Well, I mean, people will be - some people will be ringing bells across the U.K., those who welcome the idea that, you know, the - this partnership with the European Union is now over in its old form and that a new form will arise, like a phoenix from the ashes, that the U.K. will be created independent, strong and able to negotiate a much better deal with the European Union than it had before.

VANEK SMITH: And I imagine other people will be going into church to pray that the economic impact is not negative.

HIRSCH: Yes, indeed. Some people will be interpreting those bells as a death knell. But, you know, we'll - who knows? I mean, this is not going to happen overnight, right? This separation between the U.K. and Europe is not going to happen overnight. I mean, it's formally over tonight. But they've got until December the 31st of this year to figure out what the trade relationship is going to look like.

VANEK SMITH: And I know that for a long time now, and probably especially as the bells are tolling tonight, businesses all over Europe are going to be wondering, like, what exactly this deal is going to end up looking like. Like...

HIRSCH: Yep.

VANEK SMITH: ...Will there be tariffs? If so, what will the tariffs be on? How much will the U.K. need to follow EU regulations? Will there be rules about, like, sea ports and airports and, you know, the whole multitude of other things that dealmakers will have to decide on in the coming year.

HIRSCH: Indeed. And small businesses are particularly worried about this stuff because, you see, they generally don't have the resources that large firms have. So that makes it harder for them to make contingency plans in the event that things don't work out. So I was very interested in this. And I - so I called a small business in the U.K. It's called Mylands Paints in London.

DOMINIC MYLAND: We're the oldest owned and managed paints manufacturer in the world, we think. We keep looking for older companies, but certainly in the U.K. and Europe.

VANEK SMITH: Wow.

HIRSCH: Dominic Myland, managing director of Mylands. And it's a very cool company. Its paints are used in the film business. If you've ever watched a "Harry Potter" movie...

VANEK SMITH: I have.

HIRSCH: ...Or an episode of "Game of Thrones"...

VANEK SMITH: I have.

HIRSCH: ...I know you have - you'll have seen sets decorated with Mylands Paints - also "Downton Abbey."

VANEK SMITH: What haven't they done (laughter)?

HIRSCH: So my conversation with Dominic Myland after the break.

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HIRSCH: Dominic Myland, managing director of Mylands, on this Brexit Eve, may I ask you how you're feeling about Brexit?

MYLAND: I'm - I sort of - I can see the benefits of both sides. I am pleased that the deadlock has been broken. I'm pleased that the Conservative Party here has got a good majority, and it can get the thing moving because it's been a very painful three years, you know, since the referendum.

HIRSCH: OK. And what about for your business? I mean, how do you feel about it from a professional point of view?

MYLAND: I mean, it's a bit of a rocky ride because when the referendum first happened and Sterling crashed a bit, we got sort of punished a little bit without realizing it by some of the raw material suppliers who sort of put their prices up, as well as the currency (ph) crashing. And it was difficult to stay on top of that during that process. I think the Brits, well, we were slightly more pragmatic and think, well, everything will be OK, and it'll sort itself out, whereas partners in Europe have been much more nervous saying, oh, yeah, Brexit is a disaster. We won't want to buy your product. You'll never get anything here. But I think once it all settles down, hopefully pending a good trade agreement, I think they'll, you know - I don't think things will change that greatly particularly.

HIRSCH: So, I mean, what - you mentioned the trade agreement, which clearly they're going to be negotiating. I mean, what are your expectations for a good trade agreement with Europe?

MYLAND: I mean, the biggie, which has always been the biggie since the beginning, is frictionless trade. I mean, that's really the whole crux of the whole thing. It's - political union aside, it's, you know, everyone wants frictionless trade.

HIRSCH: So no tariffs, you know, relatively easy ability to get goods across - back and forth across borders, et cetera.

MYLAND: Yeah, without paperwork. You know, because as a small business we work in places like China and Russia, where we know that paperwork and tariffs and import/export is really tough to do. It's a separate part of any business. You know, I talk to customers and friends in Switzerland, and they sort of say to me, hey, it'll be fine. You know, we've been negotiating this with the EU for years. And - they do joke that we'll never get a good as deal as they've got, but they say that it'll take longer than you think, but it'll - you know, it'll all be - it'll smooth over in the end. Don't worry.

HIRSCH: I've been hearing a lot about small and medium-sized enterprises in the U.K. kind of languishing when it comes to this stuff because up until the vote, people, you know, there was some expectation perhaps that maybe there might be another referendum, and maybe Brexit won't happen at all. And a lot of people had sort of not done anything to prepare. How much preparation had you done on the runup to that actual vote?

MYLAND: We - I mean, what we've done is we've basically stocked key ingredients or key raw materials that we needed to manufacture. And then otherwise, work with supply chain to make sure that they carried adequate stocks. But there wasn't really that much you could do. You know, you can't buy endless, you know, quantities of raw materials. It just doesn't work in a business. So we had to sort of slightly keep our fingers crossed and hope that a pragmatic solution, you know, would have rolled out in the end.

HIRSCH: And presumably, you're talking constantly to your partners in Europe to kind of manage, at least to plan - to contingency plan for whatever might happen.

MYLAND: Yes, yeah. We have something lined up for the later on this year should the talks not go well because the chaotic part is going to be if the ports lock up and a deal isn't done. But I feel strongly that a deal will be - some sort of deal will be worked out.

HIRSCH: Well, you seem remarkably unintimidated by this, Dominic, I must say.

MYLAND: I don't - maybe we should - I should be more nervous about it. But I always think that there is a pragmatic solution, you know? And people - surely common sense will prevail at the end of the day, hopefully. It may be a slightly optimistic attitude to it. But that's just my personal viewpoint on it.

HIRSCH: I think optimism's a - it's a very good thing. I have no issue with optimism at all. Do you think that most other small and medium - like, small business owners share your optimism, or do you think that there's more of a sense of dread about this?

MYLAND: I think there's a huge relief. I mean, the whole mood changed after the election completely. I mean, you know, if someone was a Remainer and someone was a Brexiteer and they had a conversation before the election, it was very tense in most cases. But post-election, I think even the most hardened Remainers have sort of resigned themselves the fact that it's done. It's going to happen. Let's just get on with it. And look; you know, if it all goes wrong in the future, we could always ask to rejoin again, couldn't we, I guess?

HIRSCH: I guess, yes. I mean, it took us three times - it took Britain three times to get in in the first place, right? So it might be a little bit more of a barrier there.

MYLAND: That was Charles de Gaulle's time. You know, I'm sure - now he's long gone. I mean, I suppose if, you know, I guess if someone's prepared to put money into the club, they'll accept your membership. But, you know, within reason.

HIRSCH: So today is a big day on the calendar, you know, but it's been three years in the making. And there's another year, you know, of a period before the exit actually happens and the trade agreement is struck. How much difference does this day actually make to people?

MYLAND: Well, it seems to me there's a lot of people going to be in central London today celebrating. And I'm very close to central London, and I'm not going to bother attending it. It really - you know, there's a sort of sense personally that we don't want to feel like you're rubbing people's noses in it. You know, it's just done. I think it's maybe the best choice on balance for the U.K., and let's just move on and get on with life, you know?

HIRSCH: Dominic, thank you very much indeed for joining me. I really appreciate you giving me a little bit of your time.

MYLAND: Most welcome. Great to talk to you. Thank you.

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VANEK SMITH: This episode was produced by Darius Rafieyan, fact-checked by Brittany Cronin, edited by Paddy Hirsch. And THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

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