Since the UK referendum result to leave the European Union, I have often been asked what effect this will have on our business. These questions have come from authors, colleagues, interested friends and my mother. The honest answer to all has been “I really do not know”.
To a very large extent, this is the biggest issue with Brexit for any business. “Brexit means Brexit” is the often-quoted line from government, but the reality is that we are none the wiser now than we were during the campaign.
In the short term, Brexit has provided a very timely and much-needed boost to our income. The fall in the value of sterling has meant that our books now appear cheaper in many currencies, and we have seen a rise in orders from many countries, including Japan and China. Where we price in other currencies like the US Dollar, our sales have been worth more to us. In a time of tight budgets in higher education institutions around the world, this has been welcome.
On the other hand, any fall in the price of sterling will most likely lead to inflationary pressures in the UK economy at some stage, and whilst we might currently enjoy a small boost in our income, we may ultimately be hit with higher office rents, higher salary bills, higher paper and printing costs, and higher cost of supply. There is no doubt that any reintroduction of customs borders between the UK and the rest of Europe will have something of an administrative cost to us.
We have heard many anecdotal tales about UK researchers and UK institutions having joint projects with European colleagues put on hold until any funding situation has been confirmed. This is of course a concern to us as many of our books arise from such European cross-border projects. Equally if it is harder for overseas students to come to the UK to study, how will this impact our institutions?
On a personal level, I am a Finnish-English dual national. Since Finland joined the EU in the 1990s, I have happily been able to travel between the UK and Finland, my two home countries, without any concern. My friends and family from both countries have had the same rights in either one, and I have thought of myself as much European as Finnish or British. I spend significant amounts of time in both countries, and I will be very interested to see whether any exit from the European Union would complicate this for me.
Ultimately, we just do not know. Until the actual process and terms of Brexit are negotiated, we can only guess as to what the outcomes might be, and for a small business that needs to make staffing and investment decisions, this uncertainty can be very daunting. The current government is not doing anything to help make this situation clearer. With such friends as Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, calling British businesses fat, lazy and more interested in playing golf than exporting, I am not sure we need any enemies. All I can say to Dr Fox is that we have certainly exported more books to the world than he has over-claimed money in parliamentary expenses.
Putting aside all this uncertainty, we are in the fortunate position of not having any external debt or shareholders pressuring us to make decisions, and our market has always been a global market, so we are well-placed to continue to trade globally, and I am certain that we will be able to overcome any obstacles and take advantage of any benefits of Brexit once the process has been decided.