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Only By Listening To Business Can Britain Achieve A Smooth And Orderly Brexit

18/01/2017 15:42
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So, now we know.

Prime Minister Theresa May set out British objectives for the negotiation to leave the European Union. Britain seeks a new partnership with our European neighbours. Parliament, she announced, will make the final decision on the deal and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be involved in overseeing the conduct of the negotiation.

Mrs May's ideal deal does not include membership of the Single European Market but will seek a free trade agreement with the European Union: maximising access to the Single Market but minimising any involvement with EU laws and ending any say by the European Court of Justice; removing any future barriers to trade with the EU and opening up new opportunities to agree trade deals internationally. Negotiating to have our cake and eat our gateaux too, with a phased transitional 'implementation' period, to avoid the effects of an indigestible cliff edge.

Following the referendum, this may be the best deal that can be achievable by this government. It ends free movement of people. It anticipates a deal where EU nationals can remain with reciprocal arrangements for expat Brits abroad. It is very welcome that Parliament and the devolved administrations can have their say. Welcome and necessary but insufficient.

What about actively listening to business? At the moment, those likely to be most affected by Brexit - enterprise, entrepreneurs, importers and exporters, employers and employees - are least able to influence the scope, structure, conduct and conclusion of the negotiations.

Mrs May talked about establishing a new Cabinet committee of ministers to facilitate the involvement of other administrations in the process. Fair enough. But what new structures will be put in place to allow business, employers and employees to contribute directly towards the outcome? None are planned.

It seems to me that without ensuring that these new Cabinet Committee structures are constructed in order to encourage and involve representatives of capital and labour there will be no dynamic means of hearing from those at the coalface of British business. In these circumstances the danger is that their voices will not be properly heard or listened to. If the CBI and the TUC are not directly brought into these discussions then Mrs May's ambition to bring the Country back together will be made more difficult.

Mrs May said during the referendum campaign that leaving the Single Market risked making the British people poorer. Certainly, leaving business interests outside of the new committee infrastructure for these negotiations - and failing to reflect the interests of employers and employees within them - risks getting the detail wrong and making us all worse off as a result.

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