British newspapers may well, as Douglas Murray notes in his Outsider’s Diary this month, be missing important stories from continental Europe, but some of the continent’s papers are giving their readers the oddest impression of post-Brexit vote Britain. Last month Die Welt, Germany’s leading conservative daily, reported that the first signs of the economic impact of our referendum were beginning to show. Frank Stocker reported: “Up to now one had to look very closely to discover the first consequences of the Brexit vote. The signs can be seen in Covent Garden, one of London’s most loved shopping neighbourhoods, where suddenly shops are empty and the property owners are putting up ‘For Rent’ signs to search for new tenants.”
It is hard to see how Herr Stocker could be more wrong. Empty shops with “For Rent” signs are hardly a new sight on even the fashionable shopping streets of London. Walking along Chelsea’s King’s Road to drop my older son off to school over the last four years I have frequently been struck at just how frequently shops are empty and for rent on busy shopping streets. The same is true of where Standpoint’s offices are situated in Marylebone.
Since the Brexit vote, sterling has devalued against the euro by about 14 per cent, and by similar amounts against other currencies. Many retailers report a shopping bonanza since the vote as Europeans pour in to snap up goods which have now become relative bargains for them. Dominic Lawson reports that Aurum, the world’s largest distributor of many luxury watch brands, has seen UK sales of its watches go up by 50 per cent since the equivalent time last year. This may well be a short-term boon — as current stocks are sold UK retailers will restock and have to pay more for euro or Swiss franc denominated goods, thus presumably have to increase their retail prices, making them less of a bargain for visitors to London.
The point, however, is that, at the moment, the London retail trade is anything but suffering from the fallout of the Brexit vote. This will be especially true of Covent Garden, which relies heavily on tourist traffic. If the European press keeps telling its readers that the Brexit vote has brought calamity upon Britain, those countries’ leaders might start to believe that their negotiating hand with the UK is stronger than it actually is.