Editorial: After the Brexit vote, what do we do now?

In the days following the results of the EU referendum, the wall-to-wall Brexit coverage largely united around one question: what do we do now? Not even the 52%...

In the days following the results of the EU referendum, the wall-to-wall Brexit coverage largely united around one question: what do we do now?

Not even the 52% who voted to leave the European Union could have imagined the scale of market panic that followed. A record USD$3tn was wiped off global markets in two days and the pound fell to its weakest level in three decades against the dollar.

One thing co-operatives can do right now – and are doing – is co-operate in the face of this uncertainty

For co-operatives in the UK – and for retail co-ops in particular – what happens next is largely dependent on the triggering of the now famous Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. When the clocks start the two-year countdown to formal exit of the EU, co-operative eyes will focus on the negotiations around access to the single European market, and how this will affect future prices of goods and movement of people.

One thing co-operatives can do right now – and are doing – is co-operate in the face of this uncertainty, both with each other in the UK, and with the wider European co-operative community.

The Co-operative Party and social enterprise bodies have called for continued confidence in the mutual model. And Richard Pennycook, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, wrote to The Times newspaper on 29 June, highlighting the concerns of those EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU.

Co-op Party: Co-ops can steer us through a time of political uncertainty

“In the Co-op, we have many thousands of valued colleagues who find themselves in this position,” he wrote. “The free movement of people will be a key area of negotiation between our government and other member states, and we would urge the negotiators to draw a distinction, rapidly, between those already here and those who may wish to come in the future.”

The referendum saw a turnout of 72.16% with 52% voting to leave the European Union.
The referendum saw a turnout of 72.16% with 52% voting to leave the European Union.

Mr Pennycook followed this up with another open letter, co-authored by Ed Mayo (secretary general of Co-operatives UK, and a board member of Cooperatives Europe) and Colin Macleod (chief executive of Channel Islands Co-operative Society and a board member of Euro Coop), to the presidents and boards of Euro Coop and Cooperatives Europe, and other European co-operators.

“The values and principles of the international co-op movement transcend national borders,” they wrote. “At this crucial time they can be a powerful force in uniting and strengthening communities, which may feel increased pressure and tension as a result of recent events.”

Full coverage on Brexit and how the UK leaving the EU could affect co-ops

Co-ops serve members most effectively and strengthen the co-op movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

While one such structure is changing shape, retail co-operatives can use this challenge as a chance to innovate.

So let’s think positively. Disruptive times are also times to explore new technologies and collaborate with like-minded businesses. They are an opportunity to grow as an organisation – and to develop better ways of working for and serving their members.

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