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What Britain’s organised criminals think of Brexit

The UK’s narco moguls are yet to join the debate about leaving the EU. 

No one has asked the narcotics industry what it thinks of Brexit. They should. This industry relies on cross border trade and the movement of both people and commodities. Like the banks, the car manufacturers and the supermarkets, drug dealers will be impacted by Brexit.

But the decline of the UK narcotics industry will have a knock-on effect on the mainstream economy. This sector contributes around £10bn to the British economy, and such profits are now included in the nation’s GDP. It also provides regular investment for real estate and banking – the City of London is said to be a favourite with drug money launderers. When combined with prostitution, its 75,000-strong workforce makes it the second largest private employer in the country behind John Lewis.

So far, the UK’s narco moguls have been taciturn on Brexit.

This is, perhaps, to be expected. There is no umbrella-style federation for wholesale distributors of cocaine. The UK gangland’s kingpins keep their presence in the UK economy subterranean. And yet, official reports show that organised mobsters monitor international affairs to exploit geopolitical developments.

Brexit will be no different. Which begs an obvious question: does organised crime favour a hard or soft Brexit? To find a possible answer, I approached Professor Richard Hobbs, a leading international criminologist based at the University of Essex. As someone who has conducted in-depth research of organised criminals, Hobbs has first-hand knowledge of the British underworld.

“The guys who I know who are seriously involved in crime,” says Hobbs. “Talk to them about Brexit, they’re generally right-wing, they’re Little Britainers… and they are complete and utter hard Brexit… They like Ukip. I know some of these old boys and they do measure up to all the stereotypes and they have a picture of the Queen in their cells when they are banged up, as they frequently are.”

You might expect those involved in the UK drugs business to favour a frictionless European market and free movement. But it seems organised crime is far removed from the cosmopolitan criminal capitalists portrayed in the BBC’s McMafia.

McMafia is blown out of proportion”, concurs Hobbs. “For the people involved [in Britain’s illicit markets] they would be shocked and horrified if you told them they are transnational organised criminals. They would laugh in your face”.

Yet the jingoism of the older generation aside, there is no coherent organised crime position on Brexit because the business itself is decentralised and highly fragmented.

“The point is that there is no class of people who are organising,” observes Hobbs. “You’ve not got someone at the top making decisions. It’s not a James Bond [villain], stroking a white cat, making decision about how they’re going to deal with Brexit. Organised crime works on a network basis. But each section is almost separate.”

The ultimate red line for the criminal fraternity is not sovereignty but money. And with money, pragmatism and not ideology reigns: “The way that organised crime works is not the way we are told in the media…It’s very pragmatic – it’s day to day, month by month.”

Pulling out of the single market and creating hard borders will pressurise margins. The criminologist Ann Sergi anticipates the price of drugs will invariably increase which means that narcotics become adulterated with substances likes fentanyl or users may opt for synthetic alternatives. More deaths by overdose is the likely result.

But Hobbs notes that a hard border will not starve the UK’s stoners of trafficked drugs. Brexit or no Brexit, UK borders are susceptible to illegal trafficking: “We are so reliant on containerised traffic but only very few containers are checked. This is not going to change. We haven’t go the manpower.”

And here’s what interesting. If you asked a management consultant to conduct a strategic analysis of Brexit for organised crime, the opportunities would outweigh the costs. In Northern Ireland, as one report by The Economist showed, leaving the customs union will only make the running of contraband between north and south more lucrative. And the limits on legal immigration will create a demand for labour, which immediately creates a market for people trafficking. All helped by the fact the UK police will be more isolated and weaker as a result of Britain leaving Europol.

Mike Marinetto lectures in business ethics at Cardiff University Business School. His research interests include deviant globalisation and illegal markets. Written with thanks to Prof Richard Hobbs.

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.