07 FEB 2018

Leaving EU will be a transition for national and local business

Next month, the leaders of the European Union member states – including the United Kingdom – will meet to consider the latest stage of the negotiations on Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

It is an important meeting because it gives the opportunity, almost exactly one year before Brexit, to agree arrangements to make sure that people and businesses will not suffer an abrupt change in trading and working arrangements on the day we leave.

As both a local MP, and as Business Secretary in the Government, employers from small businesses to large manufacturers tell me that the certainty of a clear implementation period is the most important thing they need now to be able to operate with confidence in the next few months and years. A period of around two years from March 2019 would make sure that there were no sudden changes required, for which it would be difficult to plan in a matter of months. In fact, one of the reasons why it is so important, in my view and that of most businesses, that we reach agreement in March, is that there is from now a period of around three years of stability ahead – time for firms to plan for any changes they might need to make for the longer term.

Last week I wrote – along with the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, - to businesses across Britain to set out the approach that we will be seeking to agree.

The first element is stability during that period. There is no point businesses having to go through, in the space of two years, three different sets of rules whilst we are a member of the EU, during the implementation period, and following that period. That would cause unnecessary – and costly – disruption that would damage investment and jobs. So the terms of trade should remain as they are now.

The second is simplicity: every business – large or small, irrespective of their industry – should know that the certainty applies to them. It also means, for example, that the trading agreements that the EU has with other countries should continue to be available to British companies, even though we have left the EU.

The third is that people from other European countries should be clear that they can come and live and work in the UK during this period. Here in Tunbridge Wells unemployment is currently just 1.1%. Employers, including businesses, farmers and growers, and our local NHS, all tell me that it is often a struggle to recruit enough people to perform the work available, so it is important that we don't cut off the ability to employ people who come from our neighbouring countries.

These proposals have been warmly welcomed by business leaders and I hope that agreeing them in March will allow us to make progress with the next step, which is to agree the long-term relationship we will have with the European Union.

However we voted in the referendum , we all share a deep interest – along with our European neighbours – in ensuring that our future relationship is as strong and productive as it possibly can be. My job as Business Secretary in the Government gives me an important role to play in shaping that relationship and in the months ahead I will keep readers updated with the progress that I am determined to see made.

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