Business groups react to Prime Minister's Brexit speech

18 Jan 2017

Business groups have given their reactions to Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent speech in which she set out the government’s approach to negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU.

The Prime Minister ruled out remaining inside the Single Market but promised to negotiate for the ‘freest possible trade’ with European countries. She indicated that the UK would not remain within the customs union, but would push for a ‘customs agreement’ with the EU and for a phased implementation of new arrangements.

Mrs May also stressed her ambitions to make new trade agreements with countries outside of the EU.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said that the speech had ‘changed the landscape’ when it came to considering the UK’s post-Brexit future.

Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, commented: ‘Ruling out membership of the Single Market has reduced options for maintaining a barrier-free trading relationship between the UK and the EU. But businesses will welcome the greater clarity and the ambition to create a more prosperous, open and global Britain, with the freest possible trade between the UK and the EU. The pressure is now on to deliver these objectives and achieve a smooth and orderly exit.’

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) gave a broadly positive response. National Chairman, Mike Cherry, said that the announcement is ‘the starting point for a pro-business Brexit’.

He continued: ‘We now want to see concerted action to address trade, talent and transitional arrangements.

‘93% of our exporting members export directly to the single market. Our members want to see this bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement so that they can continue to trade and operate within European markets.’

Meanwhile, Allie Renison, Head of Europe and Trade Policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD), welcomed the notion of a phased implementation of a new agreement, saying: ‘Whatever the shape of the final trade deal, a smooth and orderly departure is in the whole country’s interests, so businesses will support the commitment to a phased process of implementation. We now know that we will be leaving the Single Market, and while there will be firms who regret this, they will at least be able to plan on that basis.’

However, Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said that while he welcomed the ‘clearer sense of the Prime Minister’s top-line priorities’, he thought that most businesses would come away from the speech knowing ‘little more’ about the likely outcome of the Brexit negotiations than they did before.