Prime minister Theresa May’s much-anticipated speech on Brexit this week has provided new details on how she plans to negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU.
The prime minister has promised a pro-business Brexit based on leaving the Single Market and negotiating a bespoke trading agreement. Business groups have welcomed the details but there is still widespread concern about how both the transition and the final deal will impact on businesses.
Allie Renison, head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "We now know that we will be leaving the Single Market, and while there will be firms who regret this, they will at least be able to plan on that basis. We welcome the level of detail provided in the PM’s speech and her commitment to providing certainty wherever possible."
However, Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "In business, what you achieve in a negotiation – not what you bid for – is what really matters. The Brexit process is no different. While businesses now have a clearer sense of the prime minister’s top-line priorities, they will come away from her speech knowing little more about the likely outcome of the Brexit negotiations than they did yesterday."
Businesses are as concerned about the transition arrangements as they are about the final deal. "A smooth and orderly departure is in the whole country’s interests," said Allie Renison. "While we do not expect a running commentary, firms hope to get periodic updates to maintain confidence as we make our way towards the exit."
But because the prime minister has rejected an "off-the-shelf" deal, the transition could be more difficult, the IoD has warned. Renison said: "The more bespoke an arrangement being sought, the longer companies will have to wait to see details before they can plan. Negotiations will involve lots of back and forth between the UK and EU and both sides will need to show some flexibility."
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said he wanted to see "concerted action" on transitional arrangements. "93% of our exporting members export directly to the single market … we will push the Government to guarantee whatever transition process is put in place ensures there is no cliff edge or gap in trade."
In the meantime, the BCC’s Adam Marshall said: "The simple fact is that businesses all across the UK are carrying on. Away from Westminster, many businesses are ignoring the Brexit ‘noise’ completely, and say there needs to be a far bigger focus on getting the basics right here at home. Their message is that Brexit must not become all-consuming, and that having the right skills, infrastructure and business environment across the UK will play a far bigger part in our future success than any eventual Brexit deal."