UK business seeks Brexit assurances after Johnson win

AFP London, United Kingdom Dec 13, 2019, 05.14 PM(IST)

The election result (predicted) is projected onto Broadcasting House in London, Britain, December 13, 2019. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Britain is set to depart the EU by a deadline of January 31 thanks to Johnson's decisive victory in Thursday's general election.

British business on Friday urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to provide clarity and assurances on his Brexit deal, while stimulating the stalled UK economy, after his Conservative party's emphatic election victory.

"After three years of (political) gridlock, the prime minister has a clear mandate to govern," Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said in a statement.

"Businesses across the UK urge him to use it to rebuild confidence in our economy and break the cycle of uncertainty."

Fairbairn said "early reassurance on Brexit will be vital", noting that "firms will continue to do all they can to prepare for Brexit, but will want to know they won't face another 'no deal' cliff-edge next year".

Britain is set to depart the EU by a deadline of January 31 thanks to Johnson's decisive victory in Thursday's general election.

But he still has to negotiate a new economic partnership with the bloc that remains Britain's biggest trading partner.

Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation, a local government authority for the capital's powerful financial district, pointed to "a long road ahead" on Brexit with Britain having to negotiate trade deals also with non-EU nations.

"For the City, it is vital that the future framework agreement recognises the enormous contribution of the services sector, securing maximum market access and developing a structure for the UK economy to prosper in the years ahead," she added.

Johnson, whose general election campaign message was 'Get Brexit done', has promised to forge a Canada-style free trade agreement with the European Union, handing Britain greater freedom from EU rules but would involve more barriers and costs to trade.

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"British companies... are eager for some clarity now," Jonathan Geldart, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said on Friday.

"For directors, 'Get Brexit done' will only have meaning once the details of our long-term future relationship with the EU are clear."

Geldart added: "The prime minister must resist the urge for arbitrary negotiating deadlines, and should commit to a proper adjustment period that starts when businesses know the full detail of what changes they may be facing."

On the domestic front, business leaders on Friday urged the new government to be mindful of shaking up Britain's immigration, noting the need for skilled workers to help grow Britain's stalled economy.

"The UK's future success depends on attracting, retaining and developing high-quality talent," said McGuinness.

"A critical first step is creating an effective and efficient visa system to meet the demand for talented individuals. But the government also needs to look closer to home to supercharge our own skills agenda."

Concerns about mass immigration from the EU was one of the drivers of the Brexit referendum in 2016.

The Conservatives say that the free movement of people will end after Brexit, and want to introduce an "Australia-style" points-based system for both EU and non-EU citizens.

The CBI's Fairbairn on Friday said that "pro-enterprise policies on immigration, infrastructure, innovation and skills, will help relaunch the UK on the world stage".

Adam Marshall, director-general at the British Chambers of Commerce, meanwhile called on the government to push on with improvements to transport infrastructure, including more capacity at London's Heathrow airport and a new high-speed railway linking the capital in southern England with cities in the north.

"Restoring business, investor and consumer confidence - and firing up the economy - must now be the prime minister's top priority," he said.