British prime minister Theresa May met with business leaders today to discuss the future of trade between the UK and the EU after Brexit.
Business groups from continental Europe and the UK, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) stressed the importance of a two-year transition phase after 2019.
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In a statement after the Downing Street meeting today, Emma Marcegaglia, president of the Brussels-based BusinessEurope, one of the 15 European business associations present at the meeting said:
Business is extremely concerned with the slow pace of negotiations and the lack of progress only one month before the decisive December European Council. Business aims to avoid a cliff edge and therefore asks for a ‘status quo-like’ transitional arrangement with the UK staying in the customs union and the single market as this will best provide citizens and businesses with greater certainty.
Referred to by the government as an “implementation period”, it would allow companies to adapt to new conditions in the aftermath of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn told the BBC:
The urgency that’s shared by business across Europe is growing by the day. A firm I spoke to in Belfast last year – who manufactures in Belfast – because of tariffs and red tape that would result from a no-deal Brexit, they have pulled together plans for moving to France.
Amid growing concerns that May could fail to secure a trade deal with the EU, businesses have put more pressure on the UK government to provide concrete details about the transition period.
A transition deal is important not just for UK firms, “but for firms across the European Union”, according to Bernard Spitz, a director of Medef, France’s biggest business lobby group.
“We know that for us, especially for the French, the relationship with the UK is absolutely key, but if business continuity is important, what is even more important is the integrity of the European market,” he added.
As well as certainty surrounding a transition period, businesses want to see more progress when it comes to the UK’s trade agreements.
EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned that talks will only move forward when May clarifies the UK’s financial obligations to the bloc.
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The pound fell as much as 1 per cent to $1.3060 this morning following weekend reports that 40 Conservative MPs had agreed to sign a letter of no confidence in the UK prime minister.
May wants to agree the broad outline of a transition deal with the EU for after Brexit “as soon as possible”, a No 10 spokesman said today after the UK prime minister’s meeting with business leaders ended
The spokesperson added:
The secretary of state for exiting the EU David Davis gave an update on negotiations, highlighting the progress made on citizens’ rights. Mr Davis said there was an important role for business leaders in the UK and the rest of the EU to play. He underlined that economic considerations should be to the fore in the negotiations.
Meanwhile, the City of London’s new Lord Mayor Charles Bowman will tonight urge the UK government to enter the next phase of trade talks with the EU in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, which May will attend.
Bowman is expected to say:
Negotiations should soon enter phase two, with trade talks on the table. I know I speak for everyone here when I say that the City will do its utmost to support you [Theresa May] in a task that will define our place in the world for generations. Just like you, we want a good deal that works for Britain, and for our European partners…and for the many other financial centres around the world with whom we do business.
The next round of Brexit talks is due to start in mid-December.