Bulk of UK businesses anxious for Brexit deal

As the ninth round of talks over a Brexit trade agreement get underway in Brussels this week, a survey of British businesses has shown that almost four-fifths of company bosses are anxious for a deal to be reached.

The survey, conducted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), found that 77 per cent of respondents were firmly in favour of a deal with only four per cent saying they would prefer a no-deal scenario.According to press reports in the UK in recent days, there has been growing optimism in Westminster that a deal is possible. That confidence, however, does not seem to be loudly echoed on the other side of the Channel.Fundamental differences remain over arrangements for state aid to industry and access to UK waters for EU fishing fleets. At least Cabinet Office Minister Michael Hove, who is responsible for post-Brexit planning and who headed for Brussels on Monday for the latest - and, possibly, final - round of talks, told parliament last week that he was "confident" an agreement could be reached over equivalence for financial services.The CBI survey, published in its latest Growth Indicator report, found that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic had impaired the ability of 47 per cent of businesses to make preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: "Now must be the time for political leadership and the spirit of compromise to shine through on both sides. A deal can and must be made.“Businesses face a hat-trick of unprecedented challenges: rebuilding from the first wave of Covid-19, dealing with the resurgence of the virus and preparing for significant changes to the UK’s trading relationship with the EU.“More than three-quarters of businesses want to see a deal that will support people’s jobs and livelihoods. This matters for firms and communities across Europe."Dame Carolyn said that, across Europe, the pandemic had diminished firms’ ability to prepare for an abrupt interruption of restrictions on trade and movement between the UK and the EU.“A good deal will provide the strongest possible foundation as countries build back from the pandemic. It would keep UK firms competitive by minimising red tape and extra costs, freeing much needed time and resource to overcome the difficult times ahead," she added.“Governments across Europe have shown a level of ambition to fight the pandemic many wouldn't have believed - time to show that same creativity and flexibility on securing a Brexit deal.”The Financial Times commented: "Time is running out for a deal. A European Council meeting in mid-October will be the moment when EU leaders consider progress — or lack of it — and both sides agree that unless an agreement has been sent to the European Parliament for approval by November, it cannot be enacted by January 1."Mr Johnson’s preferred “Canada-style” free trade agreement is often described as a 'skinny' trade deal. Even if it were agreed, truckers arriving in Dover would still have to carry customs declarations and face new checks where currently there are none."But it would remove the need for tariffs and quotas on trade — the imposition of which could have potentially disastrous consequences for UK sectors such as farming and carmakers."A deal would also suggest that both sides were parting amicably, making it possible that the EU would facilitate smoother crossings at the new Dover Straits customs. It would also cover other important issues such as road transport and aviation, while potentially providing a basis for future trade liberalisation."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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