Theresa May is under pressure to make a transitional deal ‘as soon as possible’
The Prime Minister heard calls for early agreement on a Brexit transition period at the first meeting of a new business council which she chaired at 10 Downing Street.
Britain’s Chambers of Commerce (BCC), an employers group, warned the government it needed to engage in “sustained and structured” discussions with business over Brexit and avoid an abrupt departure from the bloc.
The meeting was attended by business bodies including the CBI, Institute of Directors and BCC, as well as major companies considered to be most likely to be affected by EU withdrawal, including Jaguar LandRover, BAE Systems, Unilever and Tesco.
Mrs May chaired the discussion at the first meeting of a new business council designed to heal wounds after many felt they were being ignored.
The BCC welcomed the move but said regular discussions were needed ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union due by the end of March 2019.
BCC president Francis Martin said: “High-level discussions with the Prime Minister and her Cabinet must continue, but we also need to see sustained and structured discussion with business on the dozens of practical, real-world questions that firms face as a consequence of Brexit.
“Only by working together on the detail can we minimise disruption and maximise confidence for firms across the UK.
Only by working together on the detail can we minimise disruption
“Our research shows clear support among the business community for the UK to reach a comprehensive agreement with the EU, and for a transition period which will prevent firms facing a cliff-edge.
“The prospect of multiple, costly, adjustments to trading conditions is a concern for many, so starting discussions on transition arrangements as soon as possible would go a long way to boost business confidence.
“Economic growth is slowing, with Brexit-related uncertainty part of the story. As we work to get the best possible deal with the European Union, the Government must not forget to underpin confidence here at home. A domestic agenda that puts the economy and business growth front and centre remains absolutely critical.”
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Downing Street said the meeting will be followed by a series of regular PM-chaired gatherings with a changing cast list of firms, alongside summits jointly chaired by Chancellor Philip Hammond, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Brexit Secretary David Davis, attended by the UK’s five main trade organisations, the CBI, IoD, BCC, EEF and Federation of Small Businesses.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said the series of events were intended to provide a forum for top-level engagement with business on the Government’s Brexit strategy.
Mrs May wanted to make sure there was “certainty and understanding of our position” among the business community, said the spokeswoman, who added: “This is what the start of an intensive communication with business is going to look like. She intends to try to give them that certainty through talking to them privately and by being clear on what our positions are.”
Business leaders say ‘sustained and structured’ discussions are needed
Number 10 spokesman said Mrs May used the meeting to stress her desire to listen to business views and share her Government’s vision for “a successful Brexit and a country in which growth and opportunity is shared by everyone across the whole of the UK”.
The spokesman said: “On Brexit, the Prime Minister reiterated that the Government’s overarching goal is for a smooth, orderly exit culminating in a comprehensive free trade deal with the EU, with a period of implementation in order to avoid any cliff-edges.
“The Prime Minister welcomed the valuable contributions which have come from discussions with business at various levels of government over the past year, including on the development of a modern industrial strategy, and emphasised the need for this engagement to intensify over the period ahead.”
The meeting also discussed steps to boost productivity, drive investment, build confidence and keep the economy strong.
The meeting was attended by companies thought to be most affected by Brexit including Jaguar
The spokesman said: ”The Prime Minister looked forward to using future quarterly meetings to hear from as wide a variety of voices as possible to ensure the interests of those who work across a range of sectors can be represented.”
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the FSB, said business groups were seeing a “very welcome ramp-up in engagement at the most senior ministerial level”.
He said: ”Alongside discussing critical issues facing the domestic economy, this was a timely opportunity to focus on the current Brexit negotiations.
“It was also a chance to share our in-depth Brexit research findings, which focused on what our members have told us they want regarding trade, jobs and skills, EU funding and regulation.”