Letter from the EU No 1

Dear Friends,

This is our 7th day since we set off from Chester for some new experiences around the EU27 whilst we have the flexibility and chance to do so. Other Half (from hereon in known as OH) bought a motorhome and persuaded me to go out of my comfort zone and set off travelling in a very cramped space for a while. We must work on the move, but we can still do this for now. As you know I have been campaigning for a Peoples Vote and to remain in the EU and was reluctant to commit to this, but I am running out of energy and thought some inspiring distractions might be just the thing to revive my strength. OH insisted I name the motorhome, I think he thought, like a cute dog or pig or something, I would be more attached to it if it had a name, so I christened our 15-year-old Rapido motorhome Eric. We lived on a smallholding for twenty years and had various forays with livestock and anything we named always became a pet and lived until their old age in total splendour under our care.

We wanted to leave the UK before the 31st October just in case there were issues if Boris Johnson had got his way either with or without a deal so on Thursday 24th off we went. I think I need to confess to you my foolishness the day before our planned leaving date which nearly derailed the whole thing. I have been trying to learn how to ride a bike. Yes, I know. For reasons which I won’t go into here, I just never got a bike when I was a kid. I have managed my whole life without feeling I missed out but OH encouraged me to give it a go as it would make things easier if we could cycle from campsites to points of interest etc.

Anyway, on the eve of our departure I was trying to cycle to the motorhome and somehow despite going incredibly slowly I braked too hard and managed to fall like a ridiculous sack of potatoes over and to the side head-first.  I still don’t know how I did it, but I looked like an idiot.  As I fell down, I banged my head, broke my new glasses which promptly put a massive gash on my head.  4 hours later I came out of A& E with several stitches above my eye. Favourite Son who is currently away travelling himself, said “Mum, you will do anything to get out of going in a caravan”. OH growled “It’s not a caravan, it’s a luxury Motorhome”.  Do you think motorhomes are a bit metropolitan elite?  The favoured practice of using other facilities wherever you can instead of the toilet in the vehicle reminds me of when I was a little child and lived in a house with an outside toilet.

Somehow, (unlike Boris Johnson as it turns out) we still managed to leave as planned the following morning for Folkestone then the channel tunnel for France albeit with my old glasses perched on my nose.  I had a conversation with a local musician passing by who stopped to admire Eric and immediately gave me lots of useful advice having used many motorhomes when touring.  I think there is a community out there.  The rule of the road seems to be to wave to other motorhomers.  I have never had so many waves since the days when I drove around in an ancient Alfa Romeo Spider, an instant head turner.

I have to say, although it’s only been a week, on the whole living in a small space has been much easier to deal with than I expected.  It’s just like being in a very small hotel room.  We have managed not to completely fall out or trip over each other and there has been only a little tiny bit of hissing and snapping from me.  We realised quickly organisation is everything and I am so bad at the tidiness thing, but you really do have to put things away immediately.  On the nights we are in campsites with facilities we have made use of the washing and power facilities and planned for the nights of wild camping by making sure our devices are charged on route.  If you are ever doing this, a couple of apps are useful, Park4Night where people post good places to stop with reviews and comments and the ACSI app which also gives you discounts in the off season at their campsites if you join.  How did people do this before internet existed?  It almost feels like cheating to be looking every night to find a spot to camp at the following night. 

We had a little mishap with a kerb when leaving the petrol station at one point and poor old Eric has a little scratch at the bottom ofthe door.  If bad news comes in threes, only one more mishap to go, or perhaps I can count the announcement of a general election as number three.

Anyway, here we are on night 7. We have got as far as a beautiful spot called L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer as a stopover on the way to Bordeaux.  The beaches are beautiful here.  My impressions of France so far have been to wonder with awe at the amount of space here. Wide roads and huge fields. We have gone through flat country all the way so far.  We were in a public park with a stunning quadrant of silver birches in rows, which reminded me of my row of silver birches in our old garden we made in Mid Wales now hopefully as tall and strong and being enjoyed by the current owners. 

We have seen quite a lot of wildlife, in particular some stunning birds, a couple of which I have managed to photograph today so I can identify them.  Also, I have been amazed at how much industry there is.  Factories and manufacturing plants, engineering firms and machinery plants galore in virtually every town we go past. We have stayed away from motorways where we can so we can get a true flavour of the landscape and I have been impressed.  The other observation from the towns and cities we have stopped in has been the great care shown for the look of things.  Even supermarkets are carefully designed and arranged with little design touches in the lighting etc.  The public spaces in Nantes where immaculately presented.  I am looking forward to a few days around Bordeaux to explore the area a little as I expect more of the same and hopefully, we can take in some art (and wine) too.

I guess I can’t end this letter without broaching the question of politics back home.  I am still doing my twitter accounts though this first week away, I hope you can forgive me, but I have taken a little step back as a mini holiday.  I was shocked and disappointed that Labour decidedto go for a general election after members of the shadow cabinet stood on thatstage on Saturday 19th October in London and, as my friend described it, kissed our arses.  They promised they would support a referendum, that we inspired them to fight, but here we are instead, worrying about a general election.  I guess that was taken out of our hands and it’s hard not to be angry. 

But as always, we must face things as they are.  There is only one question for me which is important when deciding on tactical voting, well two really.  What is the candidate’s personal pledge on Brexit and how do we keep the pro Brexiters out of the seat?  That’s the most important thing, get the Remain Candidate in, keep the Brexit-at-all-Costs candidate out regardless of party politics.  Some of us may have to hold our noses and set aside our anger and irritation with politicians who promised us support but let us down at the 11th hour.  

At the end of the day we were hampered by 19 labour MPs and umpteen daft Tory MPs absolutely determined to ignore the Remain movement and actual facts.  Well I have news for them, there was a million of us on the streets of London on the 19th of October.  We did that.  We organised that.  We have a nationwide network of seasoned and now very experienced activists, passionate about our cause.  We have been up against it from the start but let’s see what we can achieve with a massive effort to get our vote out, get the young vote registered and out and get Remain or Pro Peoples Vote MPs into the house of commons speaking for the growing remain majority in the UK.  Remember, like my silly bicycle tumble at the start of this trip, when we started this #Remain journey together, we were laughed at.  Nobody is laughing at us now as on this Halloween we celebrate our THIRD Not-Leaving-the-EU Day within the last 12 months.  Happy Not Leaving the EU day everybody. 

Yours

@redalphababe

Where are you? It’s Time to speak out

Where are you business? Why have so many of you remained silent for so long? I saw an article the other day in Marketing Week complaining about politicians using the language of piracy when it comes to business. It was an excellent article and I wholly agree that politicians depicting business people as “buccaneers” are on a completely different planet to the actual Business community. However I departed company with the message later in the article which was rather more optimistic about how it will go after brexit than I am. It was one of those “it will be alright on the night” type calls. Businesses will prevail and adapt etc etc. I however see no benefits to business in this Daft Brexit Bullshit.

The companies who will survive Brexit and rebuild after being made uncompetitive in our closest marketplaces will be those already doing business outside the EU and the ones with deep pockets and good contacts.

One of the greatest benefits of the SM and CU is that we can sell our wares in Manchester or Munich with very little hassle. Yes of course depending on the industry there are hoops to jump but there are always hoops to jump for anything worth having, But I can assure you, the hoops won’t be magically disappearing any time soon and we will end up with even more bureaucracy. For example our business has had to register for VAT in various EU locations because of our business model. This was an absolute pain in the backside and involved extra costs, but we went to the effort of doing so and now we have our agents in place and month to month all our reporting goes smoothly. This is not going to change if we are a third country. We will still have the same vat reporting and taxation requirements as a minimum and if we were to sell into the US for example, there are several tax reporting requirements to deal with. This is on top of the customs regulations we will have to navigate.

No no no, you are dreaming if you think there is going to be a bonfire of red tape or regulation as a third country. It can only increase along with the costs and probably duties.

Our movement of stock around the EU is currently trouble free, its been easy to manage. The standards we need to exceed are the same in the UK as they are in France or Germany, so no extra layers of complexity there. What this regulatory alignment means is that relatively small firms have been able to access European markets. But what is this government doing? It’s adding friction and barriers to our biggest markets before we have anything in place to replace the resulting reduction in turnover and profit. It is absolutely crazy and can only lead to many companies getting smaller and less competitive in the short and medium term. Rebuilding after a knock takes a long time.

I don’t know why politicians think all this is a jolly idea, but in business if you aren’t growing you are probably shrinking and to reduce our competitiveness in a market of 500 million people on our doorstep is frankly the maddest thing any government has ever done to the UK.

I am tired of MPs bizplaining I am tired of people who have never sold so much as a paperclip to their gran telling me it will be fine. It will not be fine. It will be horrible, truly horrible. Jobs will go up and down the country, businesses will move or close either voluntarily or because they are no longer viable. All this is already happening in drips, a slow ebb which will gradually turn into a steady stream, then a torrent.

If you are a person who believes in preserving independent business and the small business sector, why are you not up in arms? Brexit can only damage these sectors. What we will see is small business swallowed up by a smaller and smaller number of large corporations. The business environment will favour even bigger and even more corporate organisations. The bigger you are, the deeper pockets you have, the more likely you will survive the Brexit disaster which will completely get in the way of SME and small and micro business opportunities.

After the 2008 crash, a niche we were in which had enabled strong growth for several years because it was too small for the big boys to bother with suddenly caught their eye as they scrabbled around to protect their falling revenues and profit elsewhere. Pretty soon our niche was broken for everyone. Margins were trashed, some of our same size competitors driven out by big companies. We had to move on and find new ways to recover margin. After Brexit the same will happen on a bigger scale to many companies around the country. Knock on effects on local companies will become apparent. Smaller players will close the door or sell up if they can. I can see even more family farms, for example, going into large corporations. The independents will be forced out and we will see even greater domination by big business.

For those of us who have spent our working lives fighting to keep our independent businesses in the game, healthy and growing, the mass vandalism coming our way of the small business sector by the Brexit Glitterati is going to be the saddest thing to see!

So where are you? March with us on the 19th October in London. It could be our last chance to send the message we need to test if this is really what we want?

@redalphababe
#peoplesvote #peoplesvotemarch #stopbrexit #smallbusiness #smallbiz #business