U.K. Businesses Urge May to Avoid Losing EU Access After Brexit

U.K. business leaders voiced concern after Prime Minister Theresa May set as a priority curbing migration into Britain over guaranteeing trade access after leaving the European Union.

In a letter signed by the Confederation of British Industry and other trade groups, representatives of the country’s private sector pleaded with the government to be included in the process to formulate Britain’s negotiating position in talks with the EU.

May, at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week, said immigration curbs are coming — a demand many European leaders see as incompatible with continued U.K. access to the single market. Amid increasing likelihood of a “hard Brexit” — a departure from the EU without a trade agreement in place — the pound as of Friday fell 4.2 percent for the week, the most since June 24 when the Brexit referendum results were announced.

In the letter posted Saturday on the CBI website, the groups call for any agreement to include access to the EU’s single market for U.K. businesses as well as “uninterrupted” access for Britain’s financial-services sector.

‘Lasting Damage’

Absent a preferential arrangement, the worst-case scenario would be leaving the EU and using the World Trade Organization’s rules in commercial dealings. “Every credible study that has been conducted has shown that this WTO option would do serious and lasting damage to the U.K. economy and those of our trading partners,” according to the letter.

The groups urge May’s government to rule out the WTO option under any circumstances.

Calling for more involvement in decisions around Brexit, the business leaders asked that companies be consulted to ensure economic implications are considered. With serious doubt that negotiations would be completed within the two years allowed once formal talks begin, they also urge the government to secure a transitional period that can damp the blow of abrupt changes to their trade environment.

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