Right of business to criticise Brexit defended by MP

Business secretary Greg Clarke says Airbus justified in outlining trade risk of no-deal exit

Britain's business secretary has defended the right of companies to criticise the government's Brexit strategy, as BMW warned that it will have to close plants in Britain if there are any delays in its supply chain after the country leaves the EU. Meanwhile, business lobby groups from the United States, Canada, Japan and India called for urgent progress in negotiations to avoid a no-deal Brexit that would put trade at risk.

Theresa May's government was accused of being anti-business after health secretary Jeremy Hunt accused Airbus of undermining the prime minister by warning of the cost to jobs of an unsatisfactory Brexit deal and foreign secretary Boris Johnson was reported to have said "f*ck business" in response to industry's concerns.

But speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, business secretary Greg Clarke said that Airbus was justified in identifying the risk to its operations of new customs barriers or a no-deal Brexit. "Airbus is a very important part of Britain's success, employing 14,000 people across 25 sites, and 110,000 in the supply chain of 4,000 small, medium and large companies," he said.

“Any company and industry that made such a vital contribution to the livelihoods of so many working people in this country is entitled to be listened to with respect.”


BMW fears

BMW's customs manager Stephan Freismuth said on Monday the company, which manufactures Mini and Rolls-Royce cars in Britain, would have to close its factories there if it could not import components quickly and reliably after Brexit.

"We always said we can do our best and prepare everything, but if at the end of the day the supply chain will have a stop at the border, then we cannot produce our products in the UK," the Financial Times reported him as saying.

BMW's four factories in Britain, which employ more than 7,000 people, import 90 per cent of their parts from elsewhere in Europe and more than 80 per cent of Minis and 90 per cent of Rolls-Royces are exported.

In a joint statement ahead of this week's European Council in Brussels, lobby groups representing some of the biggest companies in the US, Canada, Japan and India said they were concerned that Britain could be heading for a no-deal Brexit that would put trade and investment at risk.

Global worries

“International businesses who are heavily invested in both the EU and the UK are calling for urgent progress on the key outstanding issues remaining in the talks. Resolving as many of the remaining concerns as possible is becoming more urgent by the day – with the clock ticking towards the October deadline for a final withdrawal agreement,” they said.

The statement was issued by the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU, the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, the Europe India Chamber of Commerce and the Japan Business Council in Europe.

“Businesses recognise the complexity of issues surrounding the future of the Irish Border and that satisfactorily resolving these political concerns may take more time. The EU and the UK should continue their efforts to achieve agreement here. Meanwhile, policymakers should dedicate time and thought at the upcoming summit to addressing other remaining issues, including those involving governance, regulatory co-operation and post-Brexit preparedness,” it said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times