British business wants clarity on how Brexit will work, but Prime Minister Theresa May is not giving many details.
Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference on Monday, May asked for patience.
“We should be excited by the possibilities which this new relationship presents for the future, just as we are realistic in acknowledging that it will take time to finalise,” she said.
“I’ve made clear that a strictly time limited implementation period will be crucial to our future success. I know how important it is for business and industry not to face a cliff edge, and to have the time it needs to plan and prepare for the new arrangements.”
British industry reps are growing worried about the slow progress being made on how goods and services will flow between the UK and its neighbours once the country leaves the EU.
The head of the CBI earlier compared the government’s Brexit strategy to a soap opera with a different episode each week, and said Britain seemed more divided than the EU’s 27 other states.
Fears of a cliff-edge Brexit
May unnerved industry reps last month by saying that while she wants an implementation period – which would allow the same trading conditions to continue for around two years after 2019 — the details of that period would not be sealed until the entire exit agreement is sealed.
Many have complained about the prolonged uncertainty, and fear that Britain may crash out of the bloc without any kind of deal.
“We are in a negotiation with the European Union … First of all we need to get full agreement that this is something that will happen, and then we’ll need to negotiate the details,” May said.
“Of course, some of those details, you need to know what the end state is, what that future partnership is, because this is about practical change.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who also spoke at the conference, said Britain must agree a transition deal “immediately” to allow businesses to better prepare for the next phase.
He tried to assuage concerns of businesses when speaking at the CBI conference on Monday, saying there is common ground between business and Labour to deliver “big changes” to the British economy.
“Common ground on Brexit, common ground on investment, training and industrial strategy, and a government that embraces its responsibilities and carries them out for the common good. That’s what Labour offers you,” he said.
Little detail on timing
May did not answer a question on whether she was confident of getting a trade deal with the EU fully finalised by Oct 2018. Her Brexit minister has previously said he wants an outline transitional deal in early 2018.
Almost two in three UK firms will have implemented contingency plans by March if the UK and the EU have not struck a transitional deal by then, according to a CBI survey.
CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn welcomed May’s commitment to her Florence speech and a status quo transition.
“This is essential for firms across the country, providing much needed stability and avoiding a catastrophic cliff-edge scenario,” she said in a statement.
“All in the government must embrace this: the road to a Florence deal must be swift and have no deviations. Every opportunity must be taken to reduce uncertainty for the sake of jobs and the economy.”
An excellent explainer of what ‘no deal’ looks like herehttps://t.co/T4CnNCThOY— Chris Grey (@chrisgreybrexit) November 3, 2017