The boss of John Lewis has clashed with Dominic Raab on the day the company reported a 99 per cent plunge in underlying pre-tax profits.
Sir Charlie Mayfield hit out at the Brexit secretary after he said companies should not look at Brexit as a reason for poor results.
Profits at the retailer fell to £1.2 million for the six months to July 28 as its chairman blamed a ‘challenging time for retail’ which has been ‘created in part by Brexit’.
But he has addressed Raab directly saying he ‘didn’t say Brexit was the reason’ for the decline in profits.
He told the BBC: ‘The fact is sterling is weaker, it’s more expensive to import goods… so we have to absorb that within our margin.
‘I’m not going to get into some sort of ding-dong with the secretary of state.’
John Lewis has revealed its pre-tax profits for the first six months of the year fell by 99 per cent to just £1.2million
The John Lewis Partnership, which includes the department store and Waitrose supermarket among its brands, also said statutory half-year profits slumped 80.5 per cent to £6 million.
It warned that it continues to expect profits in the new financial year to be ‘substantially lower’.
But speaking to BBC Radio 4, chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield said: ‘There’s uncertainty from every direction right now but the department store isn’t dead. We need cool heads and will continue to focus on the customer.’
The group said that profits at the department store chain have continued to be hit by moves not to pass on price hikes to consumers from higher inflation, as well as the cost of new stores and IT changes.
Sir Charlie added: ‘These are challenging times in retail.’
He added: ‘Profits before exceptionals are always lower and more volatile in the first half than the second half.
‘It is especially so this half year, driven mainly by John Lewis & Partners where gross margin has been squeezed in what has been the most promotional market we’ve seen in almost a decade.
‘With the level of uncertainty facing consumers and the economy, in part due to ongoing Brexit negotiations, forecasting is particularly difficult but we continue to expect full-year profits to be substantially lower than last year for the Partnership as a whole.’
But his comments were rejected by Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: ‘I think there will be some temptation from businesses that are not doing so well to blame Brexit and I think that is a mistake.’
Chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield said Brexit was creating uncertain times but added ‘the department store is not dead’