UK businesses urge May to seek 3-year Brexit transition

LONDON • British business leaders urged Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a three-year transitional period for Brexit, warning that failure to secure more time would jeopardise "our collective prosperity".

In a letter organised by the Confederation of British Industry, executives from 120 businesses with more than one million employees again warned of a so-called cliff edge in which Britain leaves the European Union in March 2019 without a new trade deal or enough time for companies to adjust.

"Our businesses need to make decisions now about investment and employment that will affect economic growth and jobs in the future," according to the letter.

"Continuing uncertainty will adversely affect communities, employees, firms and our nations in the future."

While Mrs May's Cabinet seems to have struck an agreement to push for a transition, there remains disagreement over how long it should run.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has sided with businesses in suggesting three years, while others such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Trade Secretary Liam Fox are reported to favour a shorter timeframe.

"Until transitional arrangements can be agreed and trade discussed, the risk of 'no deal' remains real and has to be planned for, with inevitable consequences for jobs and growth on both sides," the business leaders wrote.

EU leaders say they are open to discussing trade and a transition, but first want to resolve differences over citizens' rights, a financial settlement and Ireland's border. Only after "sufficient progress" has been made on those topics are they willing to open trade talks, with doubts growing that the milestone will be reached in October as once hoped.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson was accused by Cabinet colleagues yesterday of "backseat driving" on Brexit after setting out his own vision of the country's future outside the EU.

Only days before Mrs May is due to speak in Italy about Brexit, Mr Johnson last Saturday published a 4,300-word newspaper article that roamed well beyond his ministerial brief and, in some cases, the approach set out by the government.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said it was "absolutely fine" for Mr Johnson to intervene publicly but she did not want him managing the Brexit process. Asked by BBC if Mr Johnson was "backseat driving", she replied: "Yes, you could call it backseat driving, absolutely."

Mrs May's deputy Damian Green also weighed in yesterday, saying Mr Johnson had written a "very exuberant" article but it is "absolutely clear to everyone that the driver of the car ... is the Prime Minister".

Mr Johnson had written in The Daily Telegraph that Britain would not pay to access European markets in the future. Once out of the EU, the country should borrow to invest in infrastructure, reform the tax code and set immigration levels as it sees fit, he said.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'UK businesses urge May to seek 3-year Brexit transition'. Print Edition | Subscribe