Economy warning

Brexit needs to be fixed to help growth, says BCC

Shevaun Haviland (sky)
Shevaun Haviland: we must stop walking on eggshells (pic: Sky)

Britain’s new government must deepen the current EU-UK trade and co-operation deal in order to boost economic growth, according to the leader of one of the country’s biggest lobby groups.

Shevaun Haviland, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the current trade deal with the EU “is not working and the country must “stop walking on eggshells” around the issue of building closer ties with its biggest trading partner.

Ms Haviland told the BCC’s global conference in London that better trade terms are possible if the UK government and the EU reach agreement in areas of mutual benefit for business on both sides.

“I’m not here to look backwards, I’m here to help build a better future for our business leaders and entrepreneurs,” she said. “We must stop walking on eggshells and start saying it how it is. The current plan isn’t working for our members.”

She added: “The EU is the UK’s largest market, accounting for 42% of all our exports. Leaving the EU has made it more expensive and bureaucratic to sell our goods and services across the Channel.

“But better trading terms are possible if the UK government and the EU reach agreement in areas of mutual benefit for business on both sides.  A better deal is best for everyone.” 

Her intervention reawakens the Brexit debate which has been largely absent from the hustings. One likely reason is that Brexit was supported in the north of England where traditional Labour seats switched to the Tories. Labour knows that backing even a bad Brexit is a means to regaining those seats.

However, the fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has warned that Brexit will cause a 4% hit to UK GDP, alongside a 15% reduction in UK trade which Labour will have to confront as it promises to improve trade with the EU.

Analysis by the London School of Economics found that 20,000 small businesses had stopped exporting to the bloc as a result of red tape created by the UK exiting the bloc’s single market.

In its manifesto, the BCC calls for a series of measures to improve EU-UK trade. They include a youth mobility deal to enable young people to live and work in each other’s countries — a policy Labour has already ruled out.

Ms Haviland said the BCC stands ready to work with the next government on a long-term strategy for trade.

“You hear all the rhetoric, but the only factor that matters, is what government will do on ‘day one’,” she said. “After 6 weeks of electioneering, businesses will be looking at the next government and who will be true to their word.  

“That starts next Friday.”  

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