UK business groups plead for economy to be put first in Brexit talks – The Guardian

Britain’s biggest business groups have made a joint plea to the government to put the economy first in Brexit talks and to secure a transitional deal that preserves access to the European single market.

The five lobby groups, including the British Chambers of Commerce and the CBI, have also called on ministers to prioritise an early deal on guarantees for EU 27 citizens in the UK and for UK citizens in other EU countries.

Their statement, released to coincide with the start of talks to leave the EU, is the latest move by business leaders to push Theresa May towards a softer Brexit. They are demanding a trade-friendly final deal in addition to a flexible transitional agreement.

“The business community fully accepts the decision of voters last June that the UK will leave the European Union. We have come together to urge the government to put the economy first as it prepares to start formal negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU,” says the statement from the BCC, CBI, manufacturers’ group EEF, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors.

“This is a deal that when finally agreed will matter fundamentally for the UK economy, for UK companies and for citizens of the UK. A deal that supports growth will allow companies to hire more people, raise living standards and improve lives across the country,” it adds.

The five – which claim to represent hundreds of thousands of businesses that employ a combined workforce of millions of people – want the final Brexit deal to ensure the tariff-free trade of goods between the UK and the EU; minimal customs formalities at the land, sea and air borders between the two; and a flexible system for the movement of labour and skills “that enjoys public support”.

It is widely expected that the UK will need a transitional arrangement to cushion its exit from the EU after 2019. The business groups want such a deal to “maintain the economic benefits of the single market and the customs union until a final settlement between the UK and the EU is agreed and implemented”.

Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC, said businesses had felt disappointed that the economy had been sidelined in recent months and they wanted assurances they would be listened to as Brexit negotiations proceed. “There was disillusionment with an election campaign that failed to realise the importance of the economy,” he told the Guardian.

“As we enter into the most important negotiations that our country will embark on in our lifetimes, the economy must be front and centre … Without a strong economy with strong businesses, the things we all want for our country are not going to come to pass. We can’t redistribute a shrinking pie. We need to be growing that pie, and that’s a shared job between business and government.”

Marshall said businesses were realistic about the complex nature of Brexit talks, but that they were keen to see some “quick wins”. Guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK was a key priority.

“Our companies are already losing people. There are people who are very worried about their future,” he added.

UK business groups plead for economy to be put first in Brexit talks – The Guardian