Business leaders will urge the government to put “people above politics” at a top-level meeting tomorrow hosted by Brexit secretary David Davis.
Company chiefs and representatives from around 20 business groups are descending on the government’s plush country house Chevening in Kent to discuss the UK’s exit from the EU as part of ministers’ efforts to build bridges with the commercial sector.
Some business leaders say they were spurned by Number 10 for months ahead of the recent General Election, but are now being brought back into the fold. Chevening is the forerunner to a series of fortnightly meetings that ministers will be holding with industry leaders in the coming months.
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chamber of Commerce, told City A.M. he would be seeking reassurance that the government puts “people’s jobs, investment and our overall prosperity” at the heart of talks.
“That needs to take precedence over political red lines,” he said.
It is critical that European negotiators “talk trade alongside the withdrawal arrangements” rather than delaying, and that there is “one transition, not multiple transitions”, Marshall said. He also wants confirmation that the government is having practical talks, rather than simply discussing the big picture.
“People want to know: who do I pay VAT to; who can I employ; which regulations do I have to follow and who oversees them, what standards do I have to abide by. We want to know that is being discussed, that this isn’t just negotiators talking at high levels.”
The Institute of Directors’ deputy director of policy Edwin Morgan said his team would be seeking clarity over three core issues: negotiations regarding EU workers in the UK, the creation of a customs committee and confirmation there will be a transitional period allowing firms to operate smoothly.
“The amount that our members have been able to plan so far has been limited because no one has known where exactly we are going but businesses can only really hold off so long on making contingency plans.”
Director of economic policy at the Legatum Institute, Shanker Singham, said calls for clarity would dominate the meeting, which he is attending.
“Trade negotiators are extremely confused about what happens in the interim,” he told City A.M, warning that “there is a danger we will sleepwalk towards a bad Brexit”.