Cautious welcome from business to Brexit deal

UK business leaders have reacted with caution to what Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims is an "excellent" Brexit deal agreed with the European Union.

Big Ben, UK and EU flags
Aside from the uncertainty over whether or not the deal will be backed by the British and European parliaments, businesses have concerns over how well services will be protected and about the future direction of UK-EU relations, particularly in regard to maintaining frictionless trade.However, business leaders are pleased some aspects of the old deal, agreed when Theresa May was premier, are being retained, such as the fact that the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and Britons living on the continent will be guaranteed.

Brexit, Irish border and trade

The main political problem, of course, centres on the Irish border and the fears of the Democratic Unionists and some hardline Brexiteer Conservative MPs that the agreement will, in effect, create a customs border between Britain and Ulster down the middle of the Irish Sea.Still, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said that if parliament could find a way to support the deal, it would unlock the transition period to the end of next year, guarantee the rights of the four million citizens living abroad in the UK and EU, and open a pathway to a new partnership between Britain and the EU27."It would keep trade flowing freely across the island of Ireland and, most importantly, avoid a damaging no-deal scenario," she said.

Frictionless EU trade and regulatory alignment is vital for UK prosperity and jobs

“Yet business has serious concerns about the direction of the future UK-EU relationship. Decades of free and frictionless trade with the UK’s largest market, forged by thousands of firms big and small, must not be abandoned.“Frictionless EU trade and regulatory alignment is vital for UK prosperity and jobs. The deal remains inadequate on services, which make up 80% of the UK economy. And big questions remain about the feasibility of negotiating a new trade agreement deep enough in a 14-month transition period.“If this deal does pass Parliament, firms will do everything possible to make it work for communities across the UK. Business will continue to challenge the Government to negotiate the vital future partnership on the basis of economic evidence.”

"Guarded relief" from business leaders

Jonathan Geldart, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said that business leaders would feel "guarded relief" that there had been a breakthrough in Brussels.He added, “Business, particularly in Northern Ireland, will want to examine the detail more fully before coming to a firm view, but they will be pleased that UK and EU leaders have made steps toward common ground.“As MPs study the draft deal, they must keep firmly in mind the damage a disorderly exit could cause businesses large and small. A further extension offers no guarantees of avoiding this outcome, but if a passable deal is in touching distance then politicians on all sides should be pragmatic about giving us the time to get there.“If the immediate choice is between leaving the EU in an orderly versus a disorderly manner, politicians must be mindful of the longer-term consequences their actions may bring to bear.”

British Chambers of Commerce: businesses likely to reserve judgment on the deal until detail studied 

Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, applauded the efforts negotiators on both sides had made to reach an agreement but said businesses were likely to reserve judgment on the deal until they had studied the detail.“Businesses need a chance to analyse precisely what the terms of this agreement would mean for all aspects of their operations. This is particularly true for firms in and trading with Northern Ireland. As companies carefully consider the real-world implications, politicians must do the same," he said.“Let’s not forget, we’ve been here before. There is still a long way to go before businesses can confidently plan for the future. Companies across the UK and around the world will be paying close attention to what happens next – and whether the deal agreed can secure parliamentary support.“For business, this deal may be the end of the beginning – but it is far from the beginning of the end of the Brexit process.”Miles Celic, CEO of the financial services lobby group TheCityUK, added, "This (deal) is an encouraging development. It is important that the deal is now approved so that we can avert the damage and disruption a no-deal Brexit would cause to customers, industry and the wider economy here in the UK and in the EU."Critically, an approved deal will provide businesses with the certainty and security of a transition period, providing a stable platform from which to enter the next stage of negotiations on the future relationship.”

For more news and views, visit our dedicated UK section.

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