British business leaders urge govt to rule out ‘hard’ Brexit
LONDON: British business leaders has urged the government to rule out a hard break with the European Union, saying the uncertainty over the terms of Brexit was impacting investment decisions.
“What we would like is the ruling out of the really worst options,” Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of CBI, Britain’s biggest business lobby group, told BBC radio.
She outlined her case in an open letter to the government which was also signed by the heads of the EEF manufacturers’ association, the International Chamber of Commerce UK and the techUK technology industry body.
They warned against a situation where Britain leaves the EU single market without having a new trade deal in place, meaning it would revert to trading under World Trade Organization rules.
“Falling into WTO rules in only 29 months from now, which is the prospective timetable, would mean up to 90 percent of goods could potentially have tariffs on them,” Fairbairn said.
She said ruling out “some of these really negative options would “help to reassure investors that the UK was still a really good place to invest.”
The letter calls for continued barrier-free access to the EU’s single market, particularly for financial services, and for a transitional deal to give businesses certainty until a new deal with the EU is agreed.
It comes after a tumultuous week of increasing market nervousness over Brexit, culminating in a “flash crash” of the pound to strike a 31-year low against the dollar.
Britain’s finance minister Philip Hammond downplayed the flash crash, blaming “technical factors” in the market.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who took over following the June 23 vote to leave the EU, has said she intends to start the two-year process of withdrawal by March next year.
While giving few details of her strategy, she has indicated that she will prioritise cutting immigration — a key issue in the referendum campaign — over access to the single market.
“The government must set out a clear roadmap for consulting with firms of all sectors and sizes to increase confidence that these complex decisions are taken on the basis of fact and a genuine understanding of the economic implications,” the business leaders’ letter concluded.
In another development, the London School of Economics said a British government official told the university that foreign academics should not do advisory work for the government on Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The row with LSE added spice to a tumultuous week for British politics which saw Prime Minister Theresa May announce a date for triggering Brexit, sterling plunge and a senior minister propose firms disclose what percentage of their workforce was non-British.
According to the LSE, a Foreign Office official told an academic at the School that only UK passport holders could do consultancy work on a Brexit project being worked on by the LSE for the government.
“We believe our academics, including non-UK nationals, have hugely valuable expertise, which will be vital in this time of uncertainty around the UK’s relationship with Europe and the rest of the world,” the LSE said in a statement.
“The UK government regularly calls upon LSE’s world-class academics for their advice on a range of issues,” the LSE said.
The London School of Economics and Political Science, or LSE, is one of the world’s top universities, which counts financier George Soros, Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and former US President John F. Kennedy among its alumni.
With around 9,600 full time students from 140 countries, the LSE is one of Britain’s most internationally diverse universities. It says over 100 languages are spoken on its campus in central London.
A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office, or FCO, declined to directly address the row but said when asked for comment that it may require security clearance and that it sought the best advice regardless of nationality.
“The FCO regularly works with academic institutions to assist in its policy research and nothing has changed as a result of the referendum,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“It has always been the case that anyone working in the FCO may require security clearance depending on the nature and duration of their work.”
“Britain is an outward looking nation and we will continue to take advice from the best and brightest minds regardless of nationality,” it said.
But Sara Hagemann, a Danish assistant professor at the LSE’s European Institute, said on Twitter: “UK govt previously sought work & advice from best experts. Just told I & many colleagues no longer qualify as not UK citizens.”