Theresa May urges European business leaders to influence Brexit talks

Ibec chief ‘more confident’ there will not be a hard Brexit in March 2019

Business leaders including Ibec chief Danny McCoy (second business leader from left) arrive at 10 Downing Street to meet British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Business leaders including Ibec chief Danny McCoy (second business leader from left) arrive at 10 Downing Street to meet British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

 

Theresa May has urged European business leaders to persuade their governments to accelerate negotiations on Britain’s trade relationship with the European Union after Brexit.

The British prime minister made her appeal during a meeting at 10 Downing Street with the leaders of a number of British and European business groups, including Danny McCoy of Dublin-based employers’ group Ibec.

Brexit secretary David Davis and business secretary Greg Clarke, who were also present, reinforced Ms May’s message that the shape of the final deal was essential for a post-Brexit transition deal to be effective.

“I think their message to the business community was: convince your governments of the merits of knowing what the ultimate deal is in order for a transitional agreement to be meaningful. If you enter into that transitional phase in March 2019 and still don’t know what the final outcome is, it’s an eroding asset. Having a transition agreement is not worth it if you continue to have the uncertainty. If you have five years after that, then it’s seven years of uncertainty for business. It becomes intolerable,” Mr McCoy told The Irish Times after the meeting.

‘Extremely concerned’

Emma Marcegaglia, president of BusinessEurope, said companies across Europe were “extremely concerned” about the slow pace of negotiations and the lack of progress only one month before December’s European Council.

“Business aims to avoid a cliff edge and therefore asks for a ‘status quo-like’ transitional arrangement with the UK staying in the customs union and the single market, as this will best provide citizens and businesses with greater certainty,” she said.

Mr McCoy said the British ministers made clear that they hoped to negotiate a post-Brexit relationship with the EU which was more distant than that enjoyed by Norway but more comprehensive than Canada’s free-trade agreement.

He said the Government was right to take a firm approach at this stage of the negotiations by insisting that there must be further progress on the future of the Border before talks on Britain’s relationship with the EU can begin.

But Mr McCoy added that he was more optimistic after the meeting in Downing Street that Britain and the EU would avoid a cliff-edge Brexit.

“I think the business community will impress upon their own governments the necessity to avoid a hard cliff-edge. Despite the rhetoric, it’s in nobody’s interest to have a chaotic Brexit in March 2019. There will be a transition period. I’m more confident that there won’t be a hard cliff-edge in March 2019,” he said.