Free­dom fighter

Steve Britt, self-styled lib­er­tar­ian on Brexit and busi­ness

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

Stephen Britt is one of the most recog­nis­able busi­ness fig­ures in Suf­folk, a lead­ing Vote Leave cam­paigner, a pas­sion­ate Brex­i­teer, BBC Look East Brexit panel mem­ber, out­spo­ken news­pa­per colum­nist and the scourge of pub­lic sec­tor bu­reau­crats. No won­der his Twit­ter han­dle is Chatty Brex­i­teer.

“I’m a lib­er­tar­ian. I be­lieve in free­dom – free­dom of ex­pres­sion, free­dom to choose, not want­ing oth­ers to tell me what to do all the time. That said, I didn’t know what a lib­er­tar­ian was un­til a few years ago. In a sense, as I de­tached my­self from party pol­i­tics, I be­came more aware of this gen­eral old-fash­ioned lib­er­al­ism, shall we say?

“Be­ing a small busi­ness­man is the key here. For me it’s all about mak­ing my own de­ci­sions when I want to make them, how I want to make them and not be­ing told by other peo­ple.”

Steve and his wife, Linda, run An­chor Stor­age, a logistics and ware­hous­ing com­pany based in Ken­ton, near Deben­ham founded by Steve and his father 31 years ago. It’s Steve’s 45th year in the com­pany, hav­ing been ap­pren­ticed to his father in 1973. In spite of com­pe­ti­tion from far larger op­er­a­tions, he has en­sured that An­chor has pros­pered.

“Suf­folk is con­ve­nient be­cause of the sec­tor of the busi­ness we’re in. Nearly half of the UK’s im­ports come in through the port of Felixs­towe. Ev­ery­thing we need is here on our doorstep. We’re try­ing to pro­vide be­spoke ser­vices to our cus­tomers and so of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to store one pack­age up­wards. We don’t go for the big boys, noth­ing to be gained there.”

The pro­file of An­chor’s cus­tomer base re­flects the changes in con­sumer tastes over those three decades. Ini­tially, the com­pany was in the bulk fruit juice and peanut mar­ket, with a strong pres­ence in frozen and chilled goods. After that, they dealt with lots of hi-fis and white goods, fol­lowed by nat­u­ral whole­foods and re­lated prod­ucts.

“In the early noughties, we had our

first in­ter­net-ori­en­tated cus­tomer and it took off from there. Now that rep­re­sents 90-95% of what we do. These days, the two main sources of im­ports are China and Tai­wan. It’s as sim­ple as that.” Steve is crit­i­cal of the be­hav­iour of the pub­lic sec­tor in sup­port­ing small busi­nesses, and says there’s a lack of un­der­stand­ing of how they op­er­ate. When it comes to ware­hous­ing and logistics, he be­lieves plan­ners are 30 years be­hind, cit­ing missed op­por­tu­ni­ties in the 1970s and 1980s to pro­vide Suf­folk with sev­eral big dis­tri­bu­tion parks at a time when the port of Felixs­towe was surg­ing ahead. “Now they’ve all gone into the Mid­lands. It could have brought em­ploy­ment, more busi­nesses and bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture sooner.”

The other key is­sue on his agenda is Bri­tain’s place in the world after the coun­try leaves the Euro­pean Union. A long time Euroscep­tic, he threw his all

‘For many who voted to stay in the EU, it’s all about fear of the un­known’

into cam­paign­ing for a leave vote in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum and re­mains an ef­fec­tive voice for de­liv­er­ing on Brexit on BBC East’s Pol­i­tics show as one of the Brexit Panel.

“For many who voted to stay in the EU, it’s all about fear of the un­known. As I’ve been in­volved with in­ter­na­tional trade for so long, I un­der­stand a lit­tle more about it. It’s quite a straight­for­ward is­sue in my mind. I want to leave a pro­tec­tion­ist EU. At same time we need to wave the flag for free trade.” He also wants to mas­sively re­duce bu­reau­cracy and avoid im­port­ing laws from the EU. He be­lieves it will mean a sys­tem of mu­tual stan­dards recog­ni­tion and, ideally, no tar­iffs. “You will not buy any­thing which is not up to the stan­dard you want and at the price you are pre­pared to pay. We’ll be work­ing to the same stan­dards the day we leave the EU as the other 27, and that ac­counts for 40% of our trade for a start. Our ne­go­tia­tors will be sign­ing deals from March 29 next year which will come into force from 1 Jan­uary 2021.

“Those will be key, but my hope is that we will be able to say to other coun­tries, we’ll not ap­ply cus­toms duty to our im­ports if you don’t levy im­port tar­iffs on our ex­ports into your coun­try. As far as the EU is con­cerned, we haven’t needed these checks at our ports for the last 25 years so why should we rein­tro­duce them? It makes no sense.” Ac­cord­ing to Steve, im­port tar­iffs are just an­other way of rais­ing tax. For ex­am­ple, bi­cy­cles at­tract a cus­toms duty of 14%, a tax he ar­gues, on the UK pur­chasers.

He is un­com­fort­able about one as­pect of the leave cam­paign. Un­like Nigel Farage or Ar­ron Banks, im­mi­gra­tion has never been at the fore­front of Steve’s mind. In­deed, as a lib­er­tar­ian, he is crit­i­cal of the present Gov­ern­ment’s ob­ses­sion with ar­bi­trary mi­gra­tion tar­gets. “My im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy is very sim­ple – we need peo­ple to come to this coun­try to work. We need doc­tors, nurses, IT pro­fes­sion­als – all sorts of qual­i­fied peo­ple. It is crazy that there are even lim­its as to the num­ber of non-EU work­ers who are al­lowed to come in ev­ery month.” He ar­gues that “spu­ri­ous” tar­gets set be­tween 2010 and 2016 were a re­sponse to un­con­trolled EU mi­gra­tion as a re­sult of Tony Blair’s ‘open-door’ pol­icy, over which the gov­ern­ment had no con­trol. “In hind­sight, it’s clearly the wrong move and we’ve had min­is­te­rial res­ig­na­tions as re­sult,” he says. “That said, we can’t have peo­ple com­ing here when they haven’t got a job to go to.”

Stephen Britt Speak­ing at the Suf­folk Cham­ber ‘No More De­lays on the A14 in Suf­folk’ Busi­ness Leader’s Break­fast, held at Trin­ity Park Ip­swich.

Stephen Britt of An­chor Stor­age, Ken­ton.

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