Suffolk company boss sceptical about how prime minister will achieve free trade with Europe

The Timberwolf production floor

The Timberwolf production floor - Credit: Joseph Casey Photography

A Suffolk company boss has expressed scepticism about how prime minister Theresa May can achieve the free trade with Europe she seeks following her much-anticipated speech on Brexit today.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech on leaving the European Union at Lancaster Ho

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech on leaving the European Union at Lancaster House in London. - Credit: PA

Theresa May gave a broad-brush description of her goals in her landmark speech at Lancaster House in London, controversially confirming Britain will leave the European single market when it quits the European Union.

However, she said that she wanted to remain part of a customs agreement with the remaining 27 EU states but had an “open mind” over whether this would be through associate membership of the Customs Union or through some other arrangement.

Chris Perry, managing director of Stowmarket woodchipper maker Timberwolf, a fast-growing £12m firm employing 65 staff, said his company sold around 30% of its products into the European Union, and a much lesser amount into other overseas markets.

“It sounds like a very difficult deal to negotiate. One of the biggest concerns from my point of view is that this will rumble on for a considerable amount of time,” he said. “I think it could affect our growth.”

Over the last three years, the business has been growing at around 15 - 20% a year.

“I like the idea, the intention if you like, that we continue to have to seek to have effectively a free trade within the EU and further afield and that’s great. I’m just a bit sceptical and cynical about how we achieve it.”

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Mrs May was “trying to present where she wants to go without giving any detail away”, he said.

“It’s a 40 year marriage and all of a sudden we want to bring divorce around exceedingly quickly and largely in our favour. I don’t perceive it as being a particularly amicable settlement.”

He feared that trade tariffs and more administration would hit the company’s growth.

“I’m disappointed in as much as it will make business life more complicated and I believe there will be a cost to that,” he said.

“I like the idea we’ll continue to pursue a free trade agreement with the EU, I just don’t as yet see how that’s realistic and achievable. I don’t think she’s presented anything that says it’s realistic and achievable,” he said.

“It sounds like wanting to have your cake and eat it.”

Nick Burfield, policy director Suffolk Chamber of Commerce said: “Suffolk businesses now have a clearer sense of the prime minister’s top-line priorities, not least the increased likelihood that the UK will leave both the single market and the Customs Union, with some sort of free trade deal to follow.

“Many businesses have been preparing for this eventuality and this announcement will lead other firms to think about making similar plans.

“But beyond that we know little more about the likely outcome of the Brexit negotiations than we did on Sunday.

“Suffolk Chamber, through the British Chambers of Commerce, will continue to press the Government for more clarity on both a post-Brexit transition period and crucially the status of EU workers currently in the country.”