‘I very much want to be out of Europe’
Brexit Proof: Chris Wallace, of Bedwin Soft Furnishings, wants UK to make its own trade deals
Chris and Ossie Wallace of Bedwin Soft Furnishings. ‘I would be extremely annoyed to see another referendum,’ says Chris
Bedwin Soft Furnishings is a second-generation family business founded by Ossie and Pamela Wallace in Kilkeel, Co Down, in 1984. The business now has a retail branch in Warrenpoint and Banbridge. Ossie and Pamela’s son, Chris, who is sales director, said they now also carry out fit-outs in the Republic and Northern Ireland.
They fitted out Liberty Insurance in Dublin and completed work on 88 high-end apartments in Number One Ballsbridge late last year.
What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?
I’m pro-Brexit so I was happy to see the outcome. I do not want to see us leave with no deal and adhering to WTO tariffs. But the deal that is currently on the table is not a good deal for the UK.
How is your business likely to be affected?
Every business will be affected short term, especially in the event of a hard Border. Long term, we’ll be gaining by getting our sovereignty back.
How much do you rely on exports or the supply of materials across the Border?
Very much so. Exports for us are with the Republic of Ireland and we’re in the South one day a week. We manufacture blinds for 13 other retail stores there.
I can’t see the green card to drive in the South happening. The Common Travel Area agreement outdates Europe and gives us free movement of people between the North and South of Ireland.
When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?
Through InterTrade Ireland, we took out a Brexit voucher. That let us enlist the help of a professional to identify what we can do to protect ourselves.
Are you examining new markets/suppliers and, if so, how practical is that?
No, not really. We have great relationships with some of our suppliers in the Republic.
Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?
In Kilkeel, we have one of the largest fishing fleets in all of Ireland which exports to Asia and the Emirates. Why can’t that be replicated for high-end blinds and window dressings? When we’re out of Europe, we can get the best deal possible with other countries.
When do you expect to be Brexit-ready?
What is Brexit-ready? I very much want to be out of Europe but I can’t understand the incompetence of the government, that it had 2½ years and is still leaving it to the last minute to get something sorted.
What’s your best-/worst-case scenario?
The worst-case scenario is we’re going to have to put a tariff on all the goods we export to the Republic of Ireland. The best-case scenario is a free trade agreement that does not involve the backstop.
Are you stockpiling goods/raw materials?
Our next delivery of curtain poles, which comes from just outside Dublin, is for four to five months ahead instead of two months, which is what we usually order.
How might the Irish or British governments, or the EU, help ease the pain of Brexit for your company or sector?
The southern government is also relying heavily on exports to the UK and to Northern Ireland, and vice versa for the UK. Both governments are bound to be able to put a bit more pressure on Europe to come up with an agreement that won’t force this backstop.
How do you think the both governments have handled the Brexit negotiations?
It pains me to say it but I believe the Irish Government has handled it a lot better than we have. In Northern Ireland, we don’t have any real representation. Yes, we have 10 MPs but there are a whole lot more not sitting at Westminster.
Looking out five years, do you think your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?
Not really. I honestly believe there will be a free trade agreement between Europe and the UK. It’s in as much Europe’s interest – even more so – to have a deal with us as it is for us to have a deal with Europe.
For Northern Irish business: would you like to see a second referendum on Brexit?
I would be extremely annoyed to see another referendum. I do not want a situation where the government has a referendum, the people speak and then they turn around and say they don’t like the answer.