Busi­ness lead­ers de­cry slow pace of Brexit talks with EU

Sunday Herald - - NEWS - BY PAUL HUTCHEON

BUSI­NESS lead­ers have voiced con­cern about the slow pace of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, warn­ing it could af­fect a con­struc­tive EU exit.

Um­brella group Busi­nessEurope said com­pa­nies needed cer­tainty and time to pre­pare for fu­ture ar­range­ments. A state­ment said: “The slow pace of the ne­go­ti­a­tions is of spe­cial con­cern to busi­ness as it might jeop­ar­dise an or­derly and con­struc­tive exit of the UK from the EU.”

How­ever, a UK Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: “In re­cent weeks we have pub­lished a raft of pa­pers set­ting out our po­si­tion on with­drawal is­sues and our fu­ture part­ner­ship, with the view to pro­gress­ing the cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions as swiftly as pos­si­ble.”

More than 100 com­pa­nies, with more than one mil­lion work­ers in the UK and EU, have signed a let­ter to Brexit ne­go­tia­tors David Davis and Michel Barnier, stress­ing the im­por­tance of mak­ing progress on a tran­si­tion deal.

The let­ter said: “Our busi­nesses need to make de­ci­sions now about in­vest­ment and em­ploy­ment that will af­fect eco­nomic growth and jobs in the fu­ture. Con­tin­u­ing uncer­tainty will ad­versely af­fect com­mu­ni­ties, em­ploy­ees, firms and our na­tions in the fu­ture. Busi­nesses across the EU and UK are clear: be­ing able to plan for a tran­si­tion of up to three years that avoids a cliff edge is crit­i­cal for our col­lec­tive pros­per­ity.

“We urge both sides to be prag­matic and de­ter­mined to move to the next stage of the ne­go­ti­a­tions. 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.”

Mean­while, Boris John­son has in­sisted he is “all be­hind Theresa for a glo­ri­ous Brexit” af­ter set­ting out a 4,000-word vi­sion of Bri­tain’s fu­ture out­side the EU that has been viewed as a chal­lenge to her lead­er­ship. The For­eign Se­cre- tary revived the widely crit­i­cised claim that quit­ting it could boost NHS cof­fers by £350 mil­lion a week and warned against pay­ing for ac­cess to Euro­pean mar­kets in the fu­ture.

But the de­tailed assess­ment of life af­ter March 2019 was re­leased just six days be­fore May sets out her Brexit blue­print in a speech in Florence, fu­elling spec­u­la­tion about John­son’s lead­er­ship am­bi­tions. He sug­gested con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship of the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union would make a “com­plete mock­ery” of the ref­er­en­dum re­sult. He in­sisted Brexit would al­low the UK to “be the great­est coun­try on Earth” and “our des­tiny will be in our own hands”. “This coun­try will suc­ceed in our new na­tional en­ter­prise, and suc­ceed might­ily,” he wrote in a Lon­don pa­per. The Leave cam­paign’s most eye-catch­ing pledge dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign claimed that ending Bri­tain’s EU con­tri­bu­tions would free up an ex­tra £350m a week that could be spent on the NHS. But it was widely de­rided in the weeks af­ter the re­sult, and John­son and other cam­paign­ers ap­peared to dis­tance them­selves from the prom­ise. How­ever, John­son now says: “Once we have set­tled our ac­counts, we will take back con­trol of roughly £350m per week. It would be a fine thing if that money went on the NHS, pro­vided we use that cash in­jec­tion to mod­ernise and make the most of new technology.”

How­ever, Scot­tish Tory leader Ruth David­son, a long­stand­ing critic of John­son, ap­peared to at­tack the For­eign Sec­re­tary for the ar­ti­cle in the wake of the ter­ror at­tack.

She tweeted: “On the day of a ter­ror at­tack where Bri­tons were maimed, just hours af­ter the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on ser­vice.”

Sir Craig Oliver, for­mer di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for David Cameron, said John­son’s words would be seen in West­min­ster as a di­rect chal­lenge to the Prime Min­is­ter. “I think he is re­mind­ing peo­ple that he is there and a force to be reck­oned with,” he said.

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