UK businesses demand clarity over ministers’ Brexit position

Major business groups have issued a call for clarity on the UK government’s Brexit objectives. Business leaders are concerned continuing ambiguity will cause businesses to activate contingency plans.

EU and UK flags flying
British business leaders are voicing increasing unease over what they see as a lack of clarity in the government’s Brexit negotiations and how the outcome will affect companies across the country.

Clear Brexit objectives

As Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit ‘war cabinet’ met in Downing Street in a bid to resolve ministers’ differing positions on transition and future EU free trade deals, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) wrote an open letter to her making “an urgent appeal for clarity” on the government’s objectives.The letter follows similar concerns voiced by various business groups, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Institute of Directors (IoD).
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Francis Martin, BCC president, and the organisation’s director-general Adam Marshall say in their letter to Mrs May, “Businesses need those elected to govern our country to make choices – and to deliver a clear, unequivocal statement of intent. “The perception amongst businesses on the ground, large and small alike, is one of continued division. Even amongst the many optimistic, future-oriented firms – those who see opportunity in change – patience is wearing thin. Directly affected companies are poised to activate contingency plans (to relocate). Many others, worryingly, have simply disengaged.“Clear UK negotiating objectives are crucial to both business and public confidence.“While the BCC has campaigned strongly in favour of a status-quo transition period, to give businesses time to plan for change, this transition must lead to a clear end point. There is no room for continued ambiguity as companies make investment and hiring decisions. The government must set out its plans.” 

CBI call for single direction

The BCC’s unease is similar to that voiced earlier by the CBI whose head of EU negotiations, Nicole Sykes, said recently that any differences between the UK and EU “must urgently be ironed out with an agreement signed and sealed by the end of March”.She added, “A status quo, jobs-first transition deal can give firms of all sizes, here in the UK and across the rest of Europe, the immediate certainty they need to keep investing, so now is the time to get on with it.“Getting an early agreement on transition will take one big job off the table and allow negotiators to start shaping a future economic relationship which delivers on future jobs and prosperity.“It’s in everyone’s interests to secure a good deal, and businesses right across Europe can help inform those talks by providing the economic evidence needed to achieve just that.”

Planning for the long-term post-Brexit era

And Stephen Martin, director-general of IoD, said that while it was “heartening” that the government planned to reach a transition deal early this year, “it is also essential that the government pushes ahead with laying out its own objectives in greater detail for our future relationship with the EU, instead of just letting Brussels set out its own red lines”.He added, “To get a bespoke deal, the UK will need to put forward some of the creative thinking first. Securing an implementation period in the next two months need not prevent the UK from simultaneously moving to provide clarity on long-term priorities as well.“Tight time constraints mean we must learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. As some politicians have noted, we need a destination mapped out as well as building the bridge to it.”A government spokesman said, “The prime minister has set out a clear ambition for a deep and special partnership with the European Union and we are confident of securing an implementation period that will provide businesses with certainty.”
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