Ministers ‘must get down to work’ following Brexit vote, business leaders in Suffolk warn

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI.
Photo: Ben Watkins

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI. Photo: Ben Watkins - Credit: Archant

Financial stability and neglected election promises should be the main focus for the Government following Britain’s vote to leave the Eurpean Union, business groups said today.

Suffolk Chamber chief executive John Dugmore.

Suffolk Chamber chief executive John Dugmore. - Credit: Archant

John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “In the wake of the electorate’s historic decision to leave the European Union, the immediate priorities for UK business are market stability and political clarity.

“Suffolk’s businesses expect the country’s political leadership to show calmness and responsibility and not to be dragged into a prolonged political inquest.

“Some businesspeople will be pleased with the result, and others resigned to it. Yet all companies will expect swift, decisive, and coordinated action from the government and the Bank of England to stabilise markets if trading conditions or the availability of capital change dramatically.

“Firms across the UK want an immediate and unambiguous statement from the Government on next steps, along with a clear timeline for the UK’s exit from the European Union.”


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He added: “Business will also want to see a detailed plan to support the economy during the coming transition period, as confidence, investment, hiring and growth would all be deeply affected by a prolonged period of uncertainty. If ever there were a time to ditch the straight-jacket of fiscal rules for investment in a better business infrastructure, this is it.

“Businesses need action to maintain economic stability, a timeline for exit, and answers to their many practical, real-world questions about doing business during and after this historic transition.

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“Firms want help to get Britain back to business at a time of great uncertainty. The health of the economy must be the number one priority, not the Westminster political post-mortem.”

Stephen Britt, managing director of Anchor Storage, based at Kenton, near Debenham, who was a prominent campaigner for the pro-Brexit Business for Britain group during the campaign, said his reaction to the outcome was a mix of “surprise and pleasure”.

“I am surprised because we have been told by the polls for the last four months, apart from a blip last week, that it was going to be a ‘Remain’ result.

“So my feelinig is one of surprise, and a bit of shock, but it is basically what I have been pushing for. I want the UK to got out into the world and stand on its own two feet.”

For his own business, Mr Britt said he hoped the result in the medium term would be the negotiation of free trade deals with more nations.

In the short-term ,however, the Government’s priority should be to address issues which had been cast aside during the referendum campaign, such as investment in infrastructure, notably airport runway capacity, rail and broadband.

“Basically, they have to get back to work and start doing what they said they were going to at the General Election last year,” he added.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general at the CBI, which campaigned on the “Remain” side, said: “The British people’s vote to leave the EU is a momentous turning point in our history. The country has spoken and it’s for us all to listen.

“Many businesses will be concerned and need time to assess the implications. But they are used to dealing with challenge and change and we should be confident they will adapt.

“The urgent priority now is to reassure the markets. We need strong and calm leadership from the Government, working with the Bank of England, to shore up confidence and stability in the economy.

“The choices we make over the coming months will affect generations to come. This is not a time for rushed decisions.

“The CBI will be consulting its members and business is committed to working with Government to shape the best possible conditions for future prosperity.”

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: “While this may not have been the result that the majority of our members wanted, Britain has voted to leave the EU, and it is now imperative that our political leaders manage the transition as smoothly as possible.

“The weeks and months ahead are going to be a nervy time for business leaders, so they need to know that the Government is focused on maintaining stability while a new relationship with the EU is established.

“It is now beholden on politicians to negotiate a deal with European leaders which preserves the ability of British firms to trade easily with the remaining member states.

“Even once we have left, the EU will continue to be our biggest trading partner, and the first destination for many companies when they start to export.

“One thing the Government must do immediately is to guarantee the right to remain of EU citizens currently in the UK. Companies do not want to have to worry about losing valued staff.”

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, said: “While it is not the result many businesses wanted, it’s the democratic will of our nation. The Government must move very quickly to stabilise the economy, reassure the markets and shore-up business confidence.

“The process of leaving the union will take some time, and the Government should not rush to instigate Article 50 and the formal exit process, while there is so much uncertainty.

“Ministers must think carefully about our negotiating position while setting out a clear roadmap for establishing a new deal with the EU which remains our biggest market and trading partner.”

Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, which remained neutral during the campaign, said: “In the wake of the electorate’s historic decision to leave the European Union, the immediate priorities for UK business are market stability and political clarity.

“Some businesspeople will be pleased with the result, and others resigned to it. Yet all companies will expect swift, decisive, and coordinated action from the government and the Bank of England to stabilise markets if trading conditions or the availability of capital change dramatically.

“Firms across the UK want an immediate and unambiguous statement from the Prime Minister on next steps, along with a clear timeline for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

“Business will also want to see a detailed plan to support the economy during the coming transition period - as confidence, investment, hiring and growth would all be deeply affected by a prolonged period of uncertainty.

“If ever there were a time to ditch the straight-jacket of fiscal rules for investment in a better business infrastructure, this is it.”

Mike Cherry, national cairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “The events of the last 24 hours have been momentous and the effects have already been seen on the markets. Clearly the EU Referendum debate has been contentious, but we now call on the Government and all parties to bring stability for the business community.

“FSB calls on the Government for clarity on what these decisions now mean for business, including how businesses will have access to the single market and the free movement of people and trade.

“Nearly a quarter of FSB members export, with the majority exporting to the single market. Access to the single market means access to 500 million potential consumers, more than 26m businesses and is worth 11 trillion euros. We call on the Government for clarity on the impact to smaller firms who export wider afield through EU FTA agreements.

“These are crucial questions that need to be answered swiftly to ensure the UK’s 5.4 million small business confidence does not fall any further, which is already at the lowest levels since 2013.This includes clarity over the practical implications of this result on how smaller firms do business.

“FSB will continue to be a constructive partner in any upcoming negotiations, ensuring the voice of smaller firms is heard loud and clear.”

Ian Cass, managing director of the Forum of Private Business, which also remained neutral during the campaign in recognition of different views among its membership, said that, after “a long and at sometimes acrimonious campaign on both sides of the argument”, the Government should now take immediate action to support SMEs and address the many issues and concerns they raised during the debate.

“Politicians now no longer have the excuse of EU interference and need to act quickly and effectively to offset what as most economists believe will be a period of uncertainty,” he said.

“This means the UK’s 1.3m employers will need support in managing this period of disruption if it is to continue to drive the British economy.”

He added: “Our feedback suggests that a majority of business owners, even those involved in international trade supported the leave campaign as a way of freeing them from red tape that was imposed on them.

“We need an accelerated deregulation programme – vague promises of £10bn cuts are no longer acceptable – and a beefed up skills programme so that UK workers have the skills needed by local employers.

“However the clock is ticking; we have two years to extricate ourselves from the EU and cannot afford for any petty political squabbling within government. There is plenty of work that needs to be done as the economy effectively needs to be rebased around small firms and trade agreements needs to be negotiated.”

Most leading unions had campaigned to remain in the EU, although some, including those representing railway workers had backed Brexit.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said today: “As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, the first priority now is to protect jobs and defend the living standards of working people.

“The Government must urgently set out a plan to defend UK industry and keep British jobs. That means defending the pound and stimulating the economy. Working people must not pay the price for the decision to leave the EU.”

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