Chamber reaction to Theresa May’s Brexit speech

Posted on January 16th, 2017

Chamber Chief Executive Scott Knowles said: “Our members will take a level of comfort that Prime Minister Theresa May today offered business an assurance that she wanted continued free trade between Britain and the EU after Brexit.

“Business understands that you can’t set all your cards on the table when you’re negotiating and there is a judgment to be made between what you reveal and what you hold back.

"We are still walking an unknown path but, in the meantime, business will continue to do what it does best – create wealth and jobs and drive the economy – and be ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead.”

Theresa May had earlier told a delegation of EU ambassadors at London's Lancaster House that she wanted Britain to be free to negotiate trade deals with other countries around the world without being constrained by EU rules and regulations.

And she made clear that "no deal for Britain was better than a bad deal", adding that with the freedom to set its own tax rates, for example, Britain could make sure it remained a good place for investment, which could be bad for the EU.

Throughout her address, Mrs May stressed that she wanted to remain a good friend and neighbour to the EU.

Although there were advantages to remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union, Mrs May said she understood that Britain couldn't cherry-pick parts of the EU that it wanted to keep and the bits it wanted to lose and she made crystal clear that, post-Brexit, that Britain would not be paying the huge amounts of money into EU coffers that it does today.

And she insisted that the model negotiated for Britain would be unique to the UK and not involve Britain being governed by the EU or having to keep open borders.

But she added that she wanted to ensure that UK companies could continue to recruit skills and expertise from EU countries and that Britons living in the EU would be allowed to continue to do so.

Scott added: “We were pleased to hear her commit to ensuring Britain should remain a global player in the fields of science and innovation and that she would strive to continue to attract the brightest students to our universities.

“And, for the first time, she said she wants UK firms to be able to continue to recruit the skills they need from among EU nationals and for the rights of EU citizens currently working here to be protected.

“She is also talking about a period of transition between the UK being part of the EU and after it leaves so that the impact of our exit is softened, which is positive.

“Mrs May has set out a position that indicates that she does have business interests at heart, which is something we have said from the outset should be a driving force in Brexit negotiations. These are things that business needed to hear.

"It was good to hear Mrs May stress that free trade means more trade, more jobs, more wealth and more growth, while barriers to free trade mean the opposite, and that it would be a ‘calamitous’ decision and 'not the action of a friend' to offer Britain a punitive deal just to dissuade other countries from leaving the EU.

“But there remain concerns about Britain’s place in the Customs Union, which facilitates free passage of goods throughout the EU, and the Single Market which prevents trade tariffs, although Mrs May was keen to stress that negotiations had already begun for post-Brexit trading agreements with many non-EU countries, which is also reassuring."