Premium

Next boss Lord Wolfson says no-deal Brexit would not lead to disorder and chaos

A driver looks on next to stopped trucks on the A16 highway, trying to make their way to the Channel Tunnel, near Calais, northern France
Lord Wolfson said that his retailer, Next, had moved all its imports and exports out of Calais to other ports. Credit:  DENIS CHARLET/AFP

Next boss Lord Simon Wolfson has said that no-deal contingency planning by Boris Johnson’s government means the UK will not suffer disorder and chaos if it fails to secure a Brexit deal with the EU. 

"We are a long way from disorder and chaos," Lord Wolfson told the BBC, saying that no-deal planning meant the economy was better prepared for no-deal. "I think the encouraging thing is that we are rapidly moving from the disorder and chaos camp to the well-prepared camp."

He said that Next had moved all of its imports and exports out of Calais to other ports.

However, he admitted that there was a risk that smaller companies that had not prepared for Brexit could cause major knock-on problems for other businesses at ports and other bottlenecks by getting in the way of those that were prepared. In such a scenario those smaller traders should be moved out of the way, he said. 

Lord Wolfson, a Brexit supporter, previously backed the new prime minister’s hardball Brexit negotiation strategy

He said he still hoped a deal would be struck, probably at the last minute, but that the UK could avoid major disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"I should stress that I would much prefer a deal to no deal, but I am much less frightened by no deal if the Government is prepared, and there is every indication it's taking it more seriously," he said. 

"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." 

Lord Wolfson's bullish outlook contradicts much of the retail industry, which has warned of rising prices and the "devastating" impact on supply chains and operating costs that would result from a no-deal Brexit. 

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 Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

“They were so scared of no deal they couldn’t allow anyone to admit it could happen. That’s changing and I think that means in the worst case you get mild disruption - in the best case, you get a deal.” 

He also criticised a proposal to impose a minimum salary of £30,000 for future immigrants. 

“I think it is a very unwise way to measure need by looking at someone’s salary,” Lord Wolfson said.