British business on Brexit: what companies said – Financial Times

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The FT asked every company in the FTSE 100 index and a range of trade representative groups for their wishlist for the outcome of the Brexit negotiations which kicked off between the EU and the UK in Brussels on Monday.

In general, companies both big and small wanted to retain as close a trading arrangement to the current situation as possible. They also wanted to be able to continue accessing skilled workers from the bloc.

Below is a selection of the most interesting responses to our questions.

What kind of immigration regime would you like the UK to adopt? Would an immigration cap of 100,000 be likely to affect your ability to staff your company adequately?
● “Caps are unhelpful. We want access to skills at all levels. The important thing for me is if access to overseas labour comes down, that it comes down slowly, so we can adjust to it. We would struggle to staff our London stores.” FTSE 100 retailer

● “Yes, it would. The prime minister has ruled out a points-based system so a form of employer-led work permit system for skilled labour would be preferable.” WPP, FTSE 100

● “Currently the talk is all about exemptions for astrophysicists, doctors and engineers. However without chefs, cleaners and front of house staff, the hospitality industry will equally grind to a halt.” Merlin Entertainment, FTSE 100

Have you been able to communicate your company’s/sector’s priorities to government?
● “The government has sought and allowed us to communicate our priorities. Discussions have to date been one-sided, with the government giving little away about its own priorities to the sector.” FTSE 100 energy company

● “The government has very much been in listening mode, understandably, and we hope to see this transition to more communication going forward about detailed objectives (such as remaining part of the European Research Area) to give confidence-boosting messages to the business community. This is not the same thing as giving away its negotiating strategy on how it intends to secure those priorities or what trade-offs it will concede to do so.” Institute of Directors

● “Yes, but we are concerned about the loss of [former parliamentary undersecretary] George Bridges at Dexeu. He was very practical, very involved in the mechanics of getting things done.” FTSE 100 CEO

Debate in the House of Commons © AFP

Would you like to see cross-party agreement on Brexit negotiation priorities? Without it, are you worried that the UK’s negotiating position will be too weak vis-à-vis the EU?
● “Yes — there needs to be cross-party work on Brexit negotiations, demonstrating that politicians can work together for the country’s best interest rather than party political ends on such an important issue.” Old Mutual Wealth, FTSE 100

● “Yes, as the binary Remain/Leave choice that the public had doesn’t begin to cover the complexity of the issues or indeed the spread of views on them. We do not see this as an issue of weak/strong positions — it is about whether the UK has an agreed set of realistic objectives for the future UK/EU relationship and ensuring that there is a coherent negotiating strategy to achieve this.” Transport company, FTSE 100

● “The EU27 leaders have agreed the EU’s negotiating guidelines, the EU chief negotiator has said the 27 leaders and the president share a united front, and the EU Parliament is generally aligned with the Commission’s recommendations. The UK will be at a disadvantage without cross-party agreement but it’s hard to see how that will be achieved post the election.” WPP, FTSE 100

What kind of access to the single market would be best for your company post-Brexit? Would privileged access (like Norway) be sufficient for you or do you want to retain full membership of the single market?
● “Full passporting for financial products — however this might be achieved.” Old Mutual Wealth, FTSE 100

● “The final arrangements should ensure all consumers maintain the benefits of continued co-operation on energy post-Brexit by maintaining our ability to trade gas and electricity with Europe without tariffs, and allow us to purchase the services we utilise to balance the system to ensure we maintain efficient operations to meet the UK’s gas and electricity needs.” National Grid, FTSE 100

● “We expect to retain access to the single market by way of our Dutch business, which is regulated and fully licensed. This business is already processing material transaction volumes and gives us increased optionality if the UK loses passporting rights, or if EU customers want data to be kept in an EU jurisdiction.” Worldpay, FTSE 100

● “Small firms don’t want borders and time-consuming border checks. Hold-ups at borders could be disastrous for British food producers, for example, with products with a short shelf-life. For those operating in a world where we expect orders to be fulfilled very quickly, border checks would put them at a big disadvantage. Staying in the single market, would mean less bureaucracy to worry about — like different VAT regimes or import duties.” Enterprise Nation, representing 71,000 small businesses

European Court of Justice in Luxembourg

Are you concerned that single market membership requires abiding by European Court of Justice rulings?
● “We live under it now. If we lived under it in the future it would not make any difference.” FTSE 100 CEO

● “No — any future agreement will need to have a recognised dispute resolution process. We don’t have a view whether the ECJ or another body would be best placed.” National Grid, FTSE 100

● “There is concern that the UK ends up in a situation whereby it is a ‘rule-taker’ in the energy sector and is required to abide by rules in which it has a diminished, or no, voice in shaping.” Energy company, FTSE 100

● “The real risk post Brexit is of gradual divergence as EU and UK law develop differently in the future. This could end up restricting access to the single market or requiring tech businesses to meet two different regulatory standards.” TechUK, industry representative body

Do you think the UK should remain in the customs union?
● “The best of both worlds is membership of a customs union that is ambitious about signing new and far-reaching free-trade deals. The ferry sector in particular is most concerned about the enormous difficulties which [leaving the customs union] will bring to the movement of trucks and trailers across the English Channel, North Sea and Irish Sea. 17 per cent of all British exports pass through the port of Dover which has an average throughput of 7,000 lorries per day. There is simply no space for vehicles to stop in the port and await clearance, nor any capability within the transport chain to generate declarations.” Maritime UK, industry trade body

● “I want access to Turkish clothes — the country is a really important part of our supply chain. If we weren’t in the customs union I would certainly want an alternative method to access those levy-free. The other thing that’s important to me: General System of Preferences, various countries have been awarded these by the EU, with either reduced tariff or zero tariffs on these items. The British government could simply award these and I’d like to see them do so.” FTSE 100 retailer

● “We would be deeply concerned about the impact on small businesses of leaving the customs union. Having said that, we recognise there are potential longer-term opportunities that leaving it could bring in terms of making trade deals with countries outside the EU. There has been talk of an associate membership of the EU customs union. We urgently need to understand what models are being considered so we can engage with members and provide real frontline insight on how to minimise the burdens and costs of any additional customs checks, or the potential application of rules of origin, on small businesses.” Federation of Small Businesses

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