Steve Britt, self-styled libertarian on Brexit and business
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.