LONDON: British business leaders welcomed Theresa May on her Brexit clarity Tuesday but insisted the UK prime minister must deliver on her pledge to secure access to the EU single market.
May said Britain would pull out of the European single market to control EU immigration, as she unveiled plans for a clean break from Brussels for the first time.
At the same time however, she stressed the need for the greatest possible access to the market with Britain as an outsider.
“Today the prime minister changed the landscape,” Britain’s largest business lobby group the CBI said in a statement.
“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.”
May said Britain would look to strike a new customs agreement with the EU to make its own trade deals with the rest of the world — a move welcomed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
“We need government to deliver a deal which includes participation in the customs union to help safeguard EU trade, trade that is tariff-free and avoids the non-tariff and regulatory barriers that would jeopardise investment, growth and consumer choice,” the SMMT said.
The automobile sector is vital for Britain’s economy, responsible for more than 800,000 jobs and 12 percent of total exports, although the country still imports more cars than it ships out.
The City of London Corporation, a lobby group for businesses situated in the centre of the capital, welcomed “the prime minister’s ambition to retain the greatest possible access to the single market, which is important to the UK’s financial and professional services industries.”
It also emphasised the need for a transitional arrangement from the time Britain formally leaves the EU and when the new arrangements come into effect.
Britain has two years to negotiate a break-up deal once May triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, which officially declares the country’s intention to quit.
“In business, what you achieve in a negotiation—not what you bid for—is what really matters,” the British Chambers of Commerce said following May’s speech.
“The Brexit process is no different. While businesses now have a clearer sense of the prime minister’s top-line priorities, they will come away from her speech knowing little more about the likely outcome of the Brexit negotiations than they did yesterday,” it said.
The British pound rebounded to nearly $1.24 Tuesday after May declared also that any Brexit deal would be put to parliamentary vote.
That caused the London stock market to drop heavily as the stronger pound weighed on share prices of multi-national firms.
May spoke Tuesday of providing “certainty” to businesses during the Brexit process.
But Scott Corfe, analyst at the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said her speech “will do little to unlock investment that is currently on hold as some business adopt a ‘wait and see approach’.”