June 23rd marks the first anniversary of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Whichever way you voted twelve months ago, we can all agree that in the year that’s followed there’s been a huge amount of discussion, but not much decision, about what life in post-Brexit Britain could be like. There remains a large amount of uncertainty over the UK’s position as negotiations with the EU begin.
Theresa May famously told us that “Brexit means Brexit” but while this was an effective soundbite it was a little light, to say the least, on detail.
We have to be optimistic that the loss of the Prime Minister’s majority in the recent general election will mean that the so-called “hard Brexit” is now unlikely to happen. Mrs May’s repeated insistence that “no deal is better than a bad deal” was controversial even among some members of her own party, notably the Chancellor Philip Hammond, and given her weakened position we can only hope that the Brexit talks will end with a sensible deal having been reached.
As for the details of what that deal might be, we’re going to have to wait two years until we find out. However, in his recent Mansion House speech, Philip Hammond urged the government to build its negotiating position around the interests of a group that the Government has repeatedly ignored since the referendum result: UK business.
Even though our survey of SMEs earlier in the year revealed that only 13% of them were worried about the future after the triggering of Article 50, other businesses, including the financial sector have been lobbying vigorously to ensure that a “hard Brexit” is avoided. It seems that the lobbying has worked on the Chancellor. Here’s some of what Mr Hammond said:
“I am confident we can do a Brexit deal that puts jobs and prosperity first, that reassures employers that they will still be able to access the talent they need, that keeps our markets for goods and services and capital open, that achieves early agreement on transitional arrangements so that trade can carry on flowing smoothly, and businesses up and down the country can move on with investment decisions that they want to make, but that have been on hold since the referendum.”
Philip Hammond, Mansion House speech, 20th June 2017.
How much influence Mr. Hammond has over the Prime Minister and Brexit Secretary David Davis remains to be seen, and we must also remember that just because the UK requests something there’s absolutely no certainty that the EU will agree to the demand.
However, after a year of unanswered questions about the UK’s position, everyone in business, from large multi-nationals to the SMEs that are the bedrock of our economy will welcome this shift in tone and we urge the Chancellor and Government to take further steps towards a more certain future.