LONDON: Britain and the European Union should agree a Brexit transitional period that would allow the UK to protect jobs and investment, the country’s main business lobby group said Thursday.
Ahead of meeting Brexit minister David Davis for talks Friday, the Confederation of Business Industry proposed that the UK seek to stay inside the EU single market and a customs union “until a final deal is in force”, echoing comments recently made by the country’s vital car sector.
“Negotiators on both sides of the UK-EU talks should aim to agree transitional arrangements as soon as possible,” the CBI said in a statement.
“A limited period of transition, beginning when the Article 50 process ends, would provide firms with continuity and certainty, protecting jobs and trade flows.”
British business leaders have long urged the government to rule out a hard break with the European Union that would see Britain’s departure from the single market or tariff-free zone, while also ending the free movement of people.
They have argued also that uncertainty over the terms of Brexit was impacting investment decisions — and warned against a situation whereby Britain leaves the EU single market without having a new trade deal in place that would mean reverting to trading under World Trade Organization rules.
British Prime Minister Theresa May in March invoked Article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, thus triggering two years of Brexit negotiations. But since her Conservative party lost its parliamentary majority in Britain’s snap general election in June, the prospect of a hard Brexit has waned.
“Instead of a cliff edge, the UK needs a bridge to the new EU deal,” CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said
Thursday in a lecture given at the London School of Economics (LSE).
“Even with the greatest possible goodwill on both sides, it’s impossible to imagine the detail will be clear by the end of March 2019. This is a time to be realistic.”
In a phone interview Thursday with AFP, Fairbairn added that what lay ahead is “not a question of soft Brexit or hard Brexit, it’s just common sense”.
She added: “This is not to call a delay to Brexit at all. This is to ask for a transition period, as short as necessary but long enough to ensure a new agreement is reached.”
And Fairbairn insisted that the CBI’s stance was a “statement shared across all the sectors”.
‘Bread to Dublin’
Fairbairn meanwhile told the LSE that the final deal would be “the most ambitious and comprehensive free trade deal ever agreed”.
It would be “a deal which makes sure bakers in Northern Ireland can sell their bread to Dublin without delay and barriers”, she said.
“A deal where car manufacturers can continue to bring in parts from all over the EU without red tape. A deal where cosmetics firms can work under one set of standards across Europe. A deal where our services firms, which are 80 percent of our economy, can continue to export to their main market, in particular our financial services.”
Fairbairn spoke as Davis prepared to meet Friday leaders from key UK industries and after he formed a special business advisory group to help negotiate Brexit.
“With negotiations underway, the secretary of state for exiting the European Union is determined to bolster the government’s engagement with the business community on Brexit,” a source said Thursday.
Ahead of the meeting, Fairbairn said “the prospect of multiple cliff edges — in tariffs, red tape and regulation — is already casting a long shadow over business decisions. The result is a drip drip of investment decisions deferred or lost”.
She added: “Agreement is needed fast — waiting until March 2019 is too late.”