Published: 21 March 2018
Area of Law: Brexit
Brexit really does mean business...
On the day that the UK and EU agreed the terms for the Brexit transition period, the hive mind of the business community gathered at The Shard in London to thrash out what it all means for UK businesses.
Against this backdrop and the anniversary of the triggering of Article 50, we also release the latest insights into our Brexit research. Now with just 20 months left to negotiate a deal, businesses are wondering what action they can take to protect their operations in what is shaping up to be an unsettled time ahead.
But with Brexit now consuming so much of our time, are we any closer to understanding the needs of the UK’s businesses?
As our panel chair Libby Wiener, Political Correspondent for ITV News, rightly said, the majority of political reporters can now retitle themselves ‘Brexit correspondents’ as it engulfs approximately 70 per cent of MP time and is the word on the lips of the entire business community.
Our panel, which included The Rt Hon Gisela Stuart, Chair of Change Britain, Colin Stanbridge, CEO of the London Chamber of Commerce, Adam McGiveron, our Head of Brexit, John McGrane, Director General at the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and Philip Bouverat, Director at JCB, debated which are the most pressing issues facing businesses and what is most likely to be kicked into the long grass.
Overall sentiments towards Brexit remained varied, as you’d expect, but it was clear that Brexit really does mean business and businesses must start to act now. However, our panel looked to untangle the economic and political implications of the here and now. Here is what was covered…
The transition deal
The majority of our panel agreed that the transition deal was a significant step forward at a time when there have been few, if any, developments. However, what was also apparent is that securing the transition period has highlighted the blindingly obvious – the Brexit process is going to take an awfully long time.
One member of the panel, who has previously worked extensively with EU policy makers, highlighted that reaching a mutually-beneficial agreement has both parties’ best interests in mind and that the negotiations aren’t as one sided as people may think. Additionally, no matter whether the EU has six months or six weeks, it is likely to agree a deal with only five minutes to spare.
Influencing the future
The role that businesses can play in shaping the future of the UK was a hotly-debated subject and has greater influence than many believe. A key take away from our panel was to not let the Government make decisions on behalf of businesses: don’t sit and wait for a decision that you may not like, but instead, go out and make it clear what you want. Join forces with trade associations or local lobbying groups and start shaping the UK’s future.
Not only that, but SMEs and MEs must take proactive action to get out there and get involved with trade missions in new territories – an exercise which was commonly used in the past.
The general consensus was that the reality of Brexit for businesses may have taken some time to hit home and although nothing much may change in the next 20 months, businesses must be planning much further ahead than that.
Although there is more chance of getting Theresa May and Jeremey Corbyn on the same page, than get our panel to agree on what a post-Brexit Britain may look like, there was no denying that ‘life beyond the EU’ drew in some harmony.
The UK and its army of businesses, leaders and entrepreneurs has ability to push outwards and sell products and services to the rest of the world. The negotiation with the EU is just one of the many trade deals and forging partnerships with ‘the rest of the world’ must be a key consideration.
The panel recognised the challenges that ordinarily face the UK’s business community and discussed whether an exit from the EU was just exacerbating the problem.
One panel member argued that it is an enormously difficult trading world out there and businesses need every bit of assistance that they can get. And, with the uncertainty posed by Brexit, the fear is that this is only going to make it more difficult than it has to be for businesses. Another member believed that with so many different countries with different agendas to compromise on, the future deal with the EU is more likely to be less favourable than the existing one we have. However, that shouldn’t stop businesses from seeking out new opportunities, territories and doing what they do best – driving the UK’s economy forward.
With agreement on the transition implementation period, businesses now have a frame of reference. During a period of uncertainty, it is easy to get distracted or drawn in to what can be controlled right here and right now, but businesses must now pull together, get their heads down and make preparations for the future.
The UK’s economy is continuing to buck the ‘doom and gloom’ trends predicted last year and more business leaders need to take action to keep it that way. Tooling up on how to prepare for Brexit now, will ensure that businesses are in a ripe position to take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit will present.
UK businesses are heralded for their entrepreneurialism, grit and determination, and no matter what Brexit throws at them, there is no doubt the business community will respond, push on and prosper.
The main areas of discussion that came to the fore were HR and immigration; supply chain agility, responsiveness to new regulation and financial resilience.
To find out our top 5 key actions visit here.