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What would Unilever have said if Brexit was the reason?

by Hugo Dixon | 15.03.2018

Unilever, the UK stock market’s third largest company, says its decision to choose Rotterdam over London as its new unified headquarters is nothing to do with Brexit. “Let me categorically say that this had nothing to do with Brexit,” chairman Marijn Dekkers told reporters.

When people protest so strenuously that something isn’t the case, it’s useful to imagine the opposite. So let’s eavesdrop on a fantasy discussion as directors of the consumer colossus, behind products from Marmite to Dove, discuss how to break the news.

Strategy director: “Brexit is a disaster for the UK economy. It will be cut off from its largest market and its economy won’t grow as fast. It could play havoc with our supply lines. So it doesn’t make sense to invest as much there. And, I mean, the UK is going to end up taking rules from the EU anyway. Rotterdam will be much closer to the centre of the action.”

Government relations: “You’re right, of course. But why on earth would we say that? We’d just piss off Theresa May.”

Communications: “Don’t forget we still want Brits to eat Marmite and Ben & Jerry’s – and more than half of them voted Leave in the referendum. If we say we’re upping sticks because of Brexit, the Daily Mail will come down on us hard, say we’re ‘enemies of the people’ and tell their readers to switch to Tesco’s own-brand yeast extract.”

Non-executive: “So what reason do we give? How about saying we’re quitting London because the takeover laws are too lax?”

Finance: “Our shareholders would go ballistic. Takeover speculation is good for our shares.”

Government relations: “I’ve just had Downing Street on the line. They want us to say that choosing Rotterdam as our unified HQ is a vote of confidence in the UK economy.”

Non-executive: “You’re joking?”

Government relations: “No, they’re deadly serious. They say we should add that the HQ of two of our three divisions will be based in London.”

Strategy: “Well, that’s ok. They can still take their orders from Rotterdam.”

Non-executive: “But what excuse then do we give for choosing Rotterdam?”

Finance: “55% of our share capital is in the Netherlands; only 45% is in the UK. Simple.”

Non-executive: “That’s a flimsy reason for uprooting a proud company with such strong ties to the UK. Have you forgotten, the “Lever” in Unilever came from Lever Brothers – founded in Britain in 1885?”

Chair: “55% to 45% seems like a good majority to me; 52% to 48% was enough to rip the UK out of the EU.”

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

Tags: Categories: Economy

4 Responses to “What would Unilever have said if Brexit was the reason?”

  • Ho Ho Ho…..I think all of us Remainers dream or imagine conversations which demonstrate the absurd position the UK is in. So, very amusing fantasy discussion. BUT…..one big mistake in your language which is constantly repeated in the media and in acrimonious family and social groups: “…don’t forget more than half of them [brits] voted to Leave the In the Referendum…”. The simple mathematics are so obvious that it’s a mystery to me why this sloppy fake ‘support Democracy’ statistic still carries weight. There are 65 Million people in the UK, the Leave vote of 17 Million is just over 25%….hardly a bold commitment on the part of ‘Brits’. If a million leavers had voted Remain….which it now appears they would, then the referendum would have supported staying in the EU. So, a million votes out of 65 million has resulted in this debacle. Marmite and Ben and Jerrys are young peoples favourite. Nuff said.

  • The item is quite right, although presented in an imaginative way. The referendum is known to have been close so in the minds of the public and businessmen that means that if they express a strong opinion in either direction, about brexit, they will annoy about half the public. (I for one won’t be buying another Dyson machine!) So business leaders will not be wanting to halve their customer base so they will be careful to take a low-key line when talking to the media.
    I nevertheless acknowledge the validity of Roger Cubberley’s comment.