28 November 2018

Prime Minister Theresa May has won the approval in Brussels that she sought for the withdrawal agreement with the EU (https://bit.ly/2K6ZCMT) and the political statement (https://bit.ly/2DDGXaa) that suggests how future EU-UK relationships might develop.

Unfortunately, this means that the hard work has only just begun as she faces the task of persuading Parliament to agree the deal, knowing that not only are the Labour Party and the SNP threatening to vote against but so are the DUP (on whom Mrs May has been relying for a parliamentary majority) and up to 80 of her own back-benchers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, the reaction from leading business groups has been at best cautious.

For the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Director General Adam Marshall said: “The fact is that businesses still need clarity and precision on the terms of trade they will face with the EU and many other countries within a matter of months. Firms need clarity and precision on who they can hire, what rules they need to follow, and what more the government will do to support them through this period of change.”

It is, he went on, just one more step on a long road for businesses exhausted by three years of nonstop political debate and growing uncertainty.

The Director General of the Institute of Directors (IoD), Stephen Martin, said that many businesses had begun to fear that the UK and EU might never reach a deal on the terms.

Recognising the probable impasse in parliament, he warned politicians of all parties that they must be clear about the consequences of their choice when it comes to vote.

“There is no perfect choice in this situation,” he suggested, only a balance of risks and trade-offs. Ratifying a withdrawal deal is currently the surest way to deliver certainty about the immediate future when the Article 50 timeline runs out next March.”

Digging into the detail of the political statement, the British Ports Association (BPA) warns of the implication that the UK and EU would need to undertake physical checks and inspections on products of plant and animal origin at the border.

“These checks are time consuming and bureaucratic and could cause significant disruption at roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) ferry ports,” Chief Executive Richard Ballantyne said.