Chief Executive Miles Beale used his speech to highlight frustrations facing the trade and introduced two keynote speakers chosen for their differing views on the Brexit debate.
One of London’s best-known economists, Roger Bootle went head to head with former German Ambassador to the UK, Thomas Matussek to discuss how the impact of Brexit.
Matussek told guests at the Royal Institute of Great Britain that Britain being part of the EU brings “more muscle to the table”.
He told WSTA members that he was in favour of a second referendum and admitted he hopes the UK will be back.
Matussek added: “Britain is family” and thinks the UK “would be welcomed back with open arms”.
Bootle pulled no punches when he described the Chequers agreement as “an appalling set of proposals” and blamed “personal political ambitions” for clouding the debate about economics and trade.
Bootle added that he didn’t think the EU was “likely to survive” citing Italy, Poland, Hungary and even France as posing “huge problems” for the EU in the future.
During the grilling, chaired by broadcaster Alex Forrest, both agreed that a Canada plus style deal was “the way forward”.
In his conference speech Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association shared his views on how Brexit plans have progressed, or rather haven’t progressed.
He told the conference:
“The WSTA has long been holding seminars and meeting members to talk through what the consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario might look like and what companies should be doing to mitigate the risks associated with a hard Brexit. I have to say we are underwhelmed with what we have seen from Government. Information is too basic and ducks most of the questions we have been asking.
A deal on the Withdrawal Agreement is neither far off nor is it far-fetched. WSTA believes firmly that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would not be acceptable. Glib political statements about the UK being able to thrive under WTO terms are just that – glib. They fail to take into account the damage that the inevitable short-term disruption at our borders. And there will be disruption because whatever the Government has said about UK controls – they have no say in the controls on goods, vehicles and people leaving the EU for the UK or entering the EU from the UK. So that’s why it’s essential that the Government secures a negotiated withdrawal.”
Miles also took the opportunity to propose a way through the border checks when we leave the EU.
He said: “I see absolutely no reason why EMCS could not be used as a model for how to move goods – all goods not just alcoholic drinks – between the UK and EU once we have left the EU. Place the onus on importer for product safety – as is the case now – and make use of technology and there’s a plausible – and, more importantly, tried and tested, model.”
The keynote speakers were followed up by a panel session on “Evolution of The Buyer”, including Sophie Devonshire, CEO of The Caffeine Partnership; Jerry Perkins, CEO of Wasted
Talent Ltd; Sam Bompas, Co-founder, Bompas & Parr; and Ounal Bailey, Co-Founder, Wisehead Productions.
The panellists switched the discussion from politics to how brands can better engage with consumers.
In a lively debate they covered topics like how to use social media, innovation and what that really means as well fulfilling the needs of the customer.
In addition to the speakers, for the first time at Conference, the smaller WSTA members were given the chance to take part in a unique brunch session with members of the WSTA Executive Board.
Miles Beale added:
“We are delighted with how the Annual Conference went. The event takes a great deal of planning but it’s certainly worth it when you hear members saying they have learnt something new and thoroughly enjoyed the event. We are always looking for new ways to get members more involved and give them food for thought.”