UK busi­nesses urge May to seek 3-year Brexit tran­si­tion

The Straits Times - - WORLD -

LON­DON Bri­tish busi­ness lead­ers urged Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May to seek a three-year tran­si­tional pe­riod for Brexit, warn­ing that fail­ure to se­cure more time would jeop­ar­dise “our col­lec­tive pros­per­ity”.

In a let­ter or­gan­ised by the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Bri­tish In­dus­try, ex­ec­u­tives from 120 busi­nesses with more than one mil­lion employees again warned of a so-called cliff edge in which Bri­tain leaves the Euro­pean Union in March 2019 with­out a new trade deal or enough time for com­pa­nies to ad­just.

“Our busi­nesses need to make de­ci­sions now about in­vest­ment and em­ploy­ment that will af­fect eco­nomic growth and jobs in the fu­ture,” ac­cord­ing to the let­ter.

“Con­tin­u­ing un­cer­tainty will ad­versely af­fect com­mu­ni­ties, employees, firms and our na­tions in the fu­ture.”

While Mrs May’s Cab­i­net seems to have struck an agree­ment to push for a tran­si­tion, there re­mains dis­agree­ment over how l ong it should run.

Chan­cel­lor of t he Ex­che­quer Philip Ham­mond has sided with busi­nesses i n sug­gest­ing three years, while others such as For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son and Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox are re­ported to favour a shorter time­frame.

“Un­til tran­si­tional ar­range­ments can be agreed and trade dis­cussed, the risk of ‘no deal’ re­mains real and has to be planned for, with in­evitable con­se­quences for jobs and growth on both sides,” the busi­ness lead­ers wrote.

EU lead­ers say they are open to dis­cussing trade and a tran­si­tion, but first want to re­solve dif­fer­ences over cit­i­zens’ rights, a fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment and Ire­land’s bor­der. Only af­ter “suf­fi­cient progress” has been made on those top­ics are they will­ing to open trade talks, with doubts grow­ing that the mile­stone will be reached in Oc­to­ber as once hoped.

Mean­while, Mr John­son was ac­cused by Cab­i­net col­leagues yes­ter­day of “back­seat driv­ing” on Brexit af­ter set­ting out his own vi­sion of the coun­try’s fu­ture out­side the EU.

Only days be­fore Mrs May is due to speak in Italy about Brexit, Mr John­son last Saturday pub­lished a 4,300-word news­pa­per ar­ti­cle that roamed well be­yond his min­is­te­rial brief and, in some cases, the ap­proach set out by the gov­ern­ment.

Home Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd said it was “ab­so­lutely fine” for Mr John­son to in­ter­vene pub­licly but she did not want him man­ag­ing the Brexit process. Asked by BBC if Mr John­son was “back­seat driv­ing”, she replied: “Yes, you could call it back­seat driv­ing, ab­so­lutely.”

Mrs May’s deputy Damian Green also weighed in yes­ter­day, say­ing Mr John­son had writ­ten a “very ex­u­ber­ant” ar­ti­cle but it is “ab­so­lutely clear to every­one that the driver of the car ... is the Prime Min­is­ter”.

Mr John­son had writ­ten in The Daily Tele­graph that Bri­tain would not pay to ac­cess Euro­pean mar­kets in the fu­ture. Once out of the EU, the coun­try should bor­row to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture, re­form the tax code and set im­mi­gra­tion lev­els as it sees fit, he said.

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