‘Busi­ness is ready to live with it, im­prove it, and above all move on from it’

Yorkshire Post - Business - - FRONT PAGE - Beckie Hart

What does busi­ness re­ally make of the Brexit deal? The an­swer is ac­tu­ally very clear. This deal is not per­fect. It does not guar­an­tee a good fu­ture trade deal. It con­tains a tricky back­stop no one likes. But, af­ter two years of crip­pling un­cer­tainty, the ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish com­pa­nies share one view: they sup­port it, for three main rea­sons.

First, it re­duces short-term un­cer­tainty. The with­drawal agree­ment un­locks a 21-month tran­si­tion pe­riod that re­moves the risk of no deal. No one should un­der­es­ti­mate the value of this. These are dan­ger­ous and dam­ag­ing times for the UK econ­omy. In­vest­ment has been cut or post­poned at 80 per cent of Bri­tish com­pa­nies.

The longer no deal re­mains pos­si­ble, the more cor­ro­sive the im­pact on jobs and in­vest­ment. Pre­vent­ing it would be a break­through. Avoid­ing no deal will also help pro­tect peace and pros­per­ity on the is­land of Ire­land.

For smaller em­ploy­ers, the sit­u­a­tion is even more urgent. They have nei­ther the time nor the re­sources to in­vest in gam­ing the many pos­si­ble Brexit out­comes that might af­fect them. This mat­ters be­cause 99.3 per cent of pri­vate sec­tor em­ploy­ers have fewer than 50 staff; they ac­count for nearly 60 per cent of pri­vate sec­tor jobs and 40 per cent of turnover.

Some ar­gue that busi­ness should not fear a no-deal out­come be­cause par­lia­ment will vote it down. This re­as­sur­ance meets with a scep­ti­cal shrug from most of the busi­ness­peo­ple I speak to. With no House of Com­mons ma­jor­ity for any route for­ward, an ac­ci­den­tal no deal is still pos­si­ble – so com­pa­nies are pro­gress­ing with their Plan Bs. By Christ­mas, 97 per cent of com­pa­nies with contin­gency plans will have ad­vanced them – stock­pil­ing, mov­ing jobs out of the UK, shift­ing sup­ply chains.

The sec­ond rea­son to back the agree­ment is that it opens up a route to a good fu­ture trade deal. Let’s be clear – it is not yet a good trade deal. Fric­tion­less trade, am­bi­tious ac­cess for ser­vices, a say over fu­ture rules – all are fea­tures that busi­ness wants. None is yet guar­an­teed. This is the ba­sis of a de­cent trade deal.

For un­der­stand­able rea­sons, the back­stop is deeply un­pop­u­lar. It is not the right place to end up. Both sides agree on this. In meet­ings the CBI has had with EU busi­ness lead­ers, all agree that the sooner a new trade deal is ne­go­ti­ated the bet­ter.

Third, this is cur­rently the only vi­able op­tion for get­ting be­yond Brexit. Mov­ing on is des­per­ately im­por­tant. The ro­bot­ics revo­lu­tion, tack­ling deep-seated re­gional in­equal­i­ties across the UK and our pro­duc­tiv­ity chal­lenge are all forces that will shape our na­tion’s fu­ture.

Should cir­cum­stances change, the CBI will mea­sure any new op­tion by the yard­stick of what’s best for the econ­omy. But the date for the Com­mons vote is now set. We are ask­ing MPs to speak to their lo­cal em­ploy­ers. This deal is a com­pro­mise.

But busi­ness is ready to live with it, im­prove it, and above all move on from it to cre­ate the best pos­si­ble op­por­tu­ni­ties for the next gen­er­a­tion.

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