Theresa May is damaging business by leaving employers “uncertain” over their access to talented European workers, the head of the CBI warned today.
Paul Drechsler said the Prime Minister must do more than refuse to offer a running commentary and repeat her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ mantra and actually lay out a plan for what happens when Article 50 is triggered.
He said at the CBI conference on Monday: “When it comes to negotiations, no-one understands the need for discretion better than business.
“We’re not asking for a running commentary - but we are looking for clarity and – above all – a plan.”
Drechsler warned: “Today, businesses are inevitably considering the cliff edge scenario – a sudden and overnight transformation in trading conditions.”
“If this happens, firms could find themselves stranded in a regulatory no man’s land.”
The Irish businessman went a step further - saying it would be “impossible” at short notice for the nation’s ports, airports and logistics firms to navigate new trading rules if they came into force without warning.
“So - for many firms it’s not about a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, but a ‘smooth’ Brexit, which avoids these cliff edge problems,” he said.
“The Government should build on the positive moves it has already made to dispel uncertainty by drawing up plans for a smooth transition, giving firms both the time to adapt to new regulation and the confidence to invest beyond 2019.”
May herself gave a speech at the CBI conference, in which she gave her biggest hint yet that the government might seek a transitional exit from the EU.
She said: “Obviously as we look at the negotiation we want to get the arrangement that is going to work best for the UK and the arrangement that is going to work best for business in the UK. And I’m conscious that there will be issues that will need to be looked at.
“I understand the point that Paul [Drechsler] has made, others have made this point, that people don’t want a cliff edge, they want to know with some certainty how things are going to go forward.
“That will be part of the work that we do in terms of the negotiation that we are undertaking with the European Union.”
She also watered down her Tory leadership campaign pledge to install worker representation on company boards.
TUC General Secretary Frances O-Grady responded that “workers on boards” should mean “workers on boards”.