The Prime Minister’s meeting with business leaders today (7 July) is very welcome. We will have a British Chamber representative there, conveying the concerns of our small, medium and large sized business members from this region.
Many businesses are increasingly frustrated by the lack of clarity within government about what it wants from Brexit and are amazed that, a year after the Brexit vote and almost three months after triggering Article 50, the UK still does not have a clear negotiating position, lacks realism about likely negotiating trade offs with the EU and appears mired in internal bickering. We also potentially have less than 18 months left until we drop out of the European Union with no alternative arrangements in place.
This is causing deep uncertainty for many and is certainly making decisions about investing in future jobs and growth much harder. Confidence levels among local businesses are now as low as during the depths of the last recession.
A majority of businesses are particularly concerned that what has been proposed by Theresa May will hurt the prosperity of the country and our local economy. When we surveyed our members earlier this year, 51% thought leaving the single market would be ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’, compared to 19% who thought it would be ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’.
Exporters are particularly concerned that leaving the single market and customs union will make it harder for them to compete internationally and would be a big set back in what is their closest and often biggest market.
In Bristol and the West of England, the question of whether we are part of the single market or customs union is critical to some of our largest employers – not least our major aerospace businesses such as, Airbus, Rolls-Royce and GKN. These companies rely on an ability to move parts in and out of Europe seamlessly, which the current government position could pose significant disruption to. They have major supply chains across our city region economy.
We also know many local exporters fear that more customs red tape will undermine their competitiveness and ability to win valuable business and jobs for Britain.
We now hope the Prime Minister listens to these concerns. After many months of feeling they were not being listened to, local business will hope that government starts to take a much more pragmatic and informed view on some of the big calls ahead.