What the UK Election Means for Fashion


In a tumultuous election year where more than two billion people around the world will go to the polls, the UK’s national vote this week has been decidedly predictable.

The country’s left-leaning Labour Party swept to a landslide victory, delivering a crushing defeat to the Conservatives. The wipeout of a party that had held power for 14 years was practically a foregone conclusion, with final polls so stark that some senior party members effectively conceded defeat before the election even took place.

But while the British electorate have resoundingly voted for change, the country’s new leadership is not expected to dramatically shift the landscape on key issues for the fashion sector.

For instance, Labour has indicated it has no plans to repeal a controversial ban on tax-free shopping for overseas visitors that has made the UK a less attractive destination for big-spending tourists. Plans to float Singapore-based ultra-fast-fashion giant Shein in London are just as likely to proceed under the new government as the old.

Labour has promised to improve trade ties with Europe, but a return to the pre-Brexit era of free movement of talent and easy market access isn’t on the cards; incoming Prime Minister Keir Starmer has ruled out rejoining the EU’s single market in his lifetime. Any concessions are also likely to be hard fought with Brussels, which has taken the position that the UK should not be able to selectively choose which benefits of EU membership it would like to regain access to.

UK Election Chart
(The Business of Fashion)

For its part, the British Fashion Council has laid out a five-point list of priorities for the incoming government. Though some, like the restoration of tax-free shopping for tourists, don’t appear to be on the cards, others could gain more support.

Fashion didn’t get a mention in Labour’s manifesto, but the party has indicated it wants to support creative industries with more apprenticeships and emphasis on the arts in schools. Plans to reform business rates could also help struggling retailers, though what that might look like in practice is yet to be defined.

The party has provided no solid indication as yet on whether it plans to follow efforts underway in Europe and parts of the US to impose much tighter sustainability regulations on the industry, an area where the UK has lagged other jurisdictions in recent years.

In fact, perhaps the most significant takeaway for fashion is that this seismic defeat for the UK’s ruling party is likely to end with a rather bland transition. Incoming Prime Minister Keir Starmer is seen as a solid, if somewhat unexciting centrist leader.

Against a wider backdrop of political tumult, with the far right in ascendance in France which is heading to the polls on Sunday and the Democratic presidential candidate set to take on Trump in the US election in November potentially back in play following President Biden’s disastrous debate performance, stability may be just what British fashion needs.



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