UK business must help shape Brexit

As creators of jobs and prosperity, businesses with UK operations want clarity and a role in shaping the Brexit negotiations, says Josh Hardie. They have five key priorities.


BUSINESSES ARE THE CREATORS OF JOBS AND PROSPERITY and responsible for building relationships and trade with partners all over the world. They, therefore, have a fundamental role to play in shaping the UK’s forthcoming negotiations with the EU.

Businesses across the UK are stepping up to the challenge and they are well placed to do so – they are used to dealing with change and uncertainty, assessing opportunities while continuing to serve their customers.

To help them play their part, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called for a new partnership between the UK Government and firms of all sizes.

Businesses with operations in the UK are determined to speak with as unified a voice as possible to help government understand the key priorities for renegotiation. In return, business also wants this same clarity from government and a proper plan for the country’s future economic relationships.

To support this conversation, the CBI has surveyed more than 500 of its members. While opinions vary between businesses, five clear principles have emerged that they regard as key to future negotiations.

Top of the list comes the clear call: the UK must continue trading easily with its neighbours. With 45% of the UK’s exports destined for the EU, alongside 53% of imports, maintaining easy access to this market is a major business concern.

The level of access to the single market has implications for people’s ability to live and work across the EU: there are genuine concerns over immigration. To thrive and grow, business also needs access to talent from across the world.

Despite historically high employment, companies still struggle to fill positions in certain sectors. And although it is vital for the UK to upskill its domestic workforce, free movement from the EU has helped companies overcome these shortages.

This is not simply a long-term challenge. It is an immediate and real concern for EU migrants already in the country – and UK citizens resident in the EU – who urgently need clarification about their status once the UK has left the EU.

Our members also highlight the need to strike a balance between UK- and EU-led regulation in the future. In areas where the EU currently facilitates international collaboration – including aviation and medical licences – we still need to be involved. And we need influence over new EU rules and standards that may still apply to the UK’s trading businesses post-Brexit.

The possibilities for new trade deals with established and growing markets are exciting. But the EU’s trade deals with third-party countries have already helped to bring barriers down. CBI members are clear they want to protect preferential access to markets through these deals.

Finally, businesses that have matched EU investment in projects that support infrastructure, small and medium enterprises, research and innovation, and the rural economy are  in need of urgent assurances that funding promises will be honoured.

Managing these priorities will be a balancing act. But at the root of them all is a simple message: a new era of partnership is needed so that businesses have the right foundations to continue creating prosperity, for the benefit of all.

Josh joined the CBI as Deputy Director-General, Policy and Campaigns in March 2016. Prior to this, he was Group Director for Corporate Responsibility at Tesco, leading the integration of social and reputational issues into business strategy and developing a new approach to campaigning on issues including health, employability and sustainability. Josh has held directorlevel roles at EdComs Ltd – a leading communications and CSR agency – creating campaigns for clients including Google, the NSPCC and the British Army.

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