PEABODY — Britain’s potential divorce from the European Union (EU) is sending ripples across the pond that are lapping up on the doorstep of Neil Yetts’ Route 1 business.
Yetts owns Union Jack Market, a store selling all things British, especially candy and teas especially popular at Easter and Christmas. Uncertainty about if and how Britain and the EU will part ways and if the split — dubbed Brexit — will cause economic shortages, has Yetts worried about his suppliers’ ability to procure store items for Union Jack.
“I think the concern is the unknown and how it happens. In the end, I think it is going to be painful for a lot of people,” he said.
Based on a vote by its residents in 2016, Britain is due to leave the 28-nation EU on March 29. Britain’s Labour Party leaders are calling for a second vote and a plan outlining Britain’s split from the EU, negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May, has been rejected by British lawmakers, setting the stage for the confusion and uncertainty Yetts’ and other business owners are experiencing.
John D. Cahill, vice chairman for federal and international affairs for Boston lobbying firm O’Neill and Associates, talks about “the shadow of Brexit” in describing potential worries for U.S. businesses contemplating a British departure from the EU.
American contractors doing business in Britain, typically in partnership with British firms, and airlines are carefully watching Brexit developments. Cahill said agreements allowing airlines to fly routes to Britain are negotiated with the EU. If a Brexit split occurs, new U.S. and British agreements will have to be negotiated.
“The extreme would be service could be curtailed. They would need to renegotiate their agreements with the British government,” Cahill said.
Brexit stakes are high for American companies because, said North Shore Community College (NSCC) professor Dr. Lawrence Davis, “the natural link to the EU is through London for the United States.”
Davis said that if Britain “crashes out” of the EU without the departure deal negotiated by May or an alternate deal, the British economy will shrink.
“That’s going to have an effect on investment in the U.S. We’re going to lose that EU link through London,” he said.
Union Jack has been in business for 30 years. Yetts bought it in June 2017 and the store is open Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. He relies on suppliers to get him the British goods his Anglophiles and English expatriates crave. His loyal customers have an affinity for a British treat called treacle.
“Business is steady at the moment. We see an increase when Britain is in the World Cup and with anything to do with the royals,” Yetts said.
He sympathizes with arguments by Brexit supporters that the EU has moved beyond its original vision as an “economic free zone.” But he worries a Brexit split could lead to shortages of goods in Britain.
Cahill said Brexit and the turmoil in Britain surrounding it hasn’t necessarily occupied the complete attention of American companies because it is “Eurocentric” rather than an American problem.
But he said worries that could loom in advance of March 29, including the prospect of the British pound plummeting, are going to start taking center stage.
Davis, who is chairman of NSCC’s history, government and economic department, said one of the longer term questions about Brexit is how will it affect British investment in New England.
He also wonders how Brexit will temper economic relationships between New England and Canada. New England and its northern neighbor, especially Quebec, have significant agreements on energy production.
“Canada,” Davis said, “could emerge stronger.”