CBI leader urges government to rule out no deal Brexit on visit to Bristol

January 11, 2019
By

The director-general of the CBI used a speech in Bristol today to warn that a no deal Brexit would hit the South West’s manufacturing and services industries hard as well as scuppering vital export deals.

Addressing a gathering of senior business figures at Bristol Old Vic, Carolyn Fairbairn, pictured, urged the government to immediately set out its plan to avert crashing out of the EU without a deal if it loses next Tuesday’s meaningful vote in the Commons. 

She said the responsibility to ensure an orderly exit was now in Parliament’s hands.

“Each MP is democratically chosen to safeguard the security and prosperity of our country,” she told the business leaders.

“And next week, they face a test. If they meet it with yet more brinkmanship, the whole country could face a no-deal, disorderly Brexit.

“The economic consequences would be profound, widespread and lasting. GDP would decline by up to 8%, meaning less money for our public services and those who rely on them.

“Businesses would face new costs and tariffs. Our ports would be disrupted, separating firms from the parts they need to supply their customers.

“Trade deals with countries like Japan, South Korea and Turkey would be lost.

“This region’s services sector, including broadcasters, insurance brokers and financial services firms would be at a sharp disadvantage. Make no mistake, no-deal cannot be ‘managed’.”

She added that if the government lost the meaningful vote, it had to immediately guarantee it would avert no deal. Only then would the country finally have the chance to move beyond the all-consuming obsessions of Brexit and “heal the divisions that have left communities separated and investors questioning the UK as a business destination”.

Vital issues that have dogged the economy for decades could then be tackled, such as “lifting productivity, renewing infrastructure, solving our skills challenge, investing in new technology, restoring competitiveness, and making this country fairer – for everyone,” she said.

The leader of the UK’s largest business lobby group also highlighted the importance of continued access to skills and labour for firms across the region and hit out at the government’s latest immigration proposals.

“The proposals published before Christmas fall far short of what our economy needs,” she said.

“Overseas workers on low-incomes would be able to come here only for a single year. Companies would pay immigration charges at the unaffordable rate of over £1,000 per worker, per year.

“While consultation is welcome, these plans take us to within a year of when free movement is set to end. It’s simply not enough time. And it is now time to say so.”

She said one consequence of the “historic lack of informed debate about immigration in this country” was a lack of understanding about the scale of overseas workers’ contribution.

“So it’s up to us – the business owners, leaders and managers – to explain how overseas workers bring skill, innovation, and enterprise,” she told the meeting.

“Any hasty attempt to cut their numbers would not only harm business, but harm our country. We rely on workers from abroad for so much.

“To harvest our food, build our homes, care for us in our old age. To help us win new contracts, bring new skills, ideas and insight.

“As we leave the EU, our country has an opportunity – and a responsibility – to shape our own, independent immigration policy.

“It must win public support and in turn support our economy.

“And it must take us beyond the generalisations and stereotypes, which in the past has hampered honest debate.

She said she wanted to confront a myth around immigration and business.

“It’s the idea that businesses turn to foreign labour because they are too lazy to invest in workers here,” she said.

“I hear politicians say it who should know better – and pull them up on it every time – because it couldn’t be more wrong.”

Ms Fairbairn also praised the diversity of the South West’s economy, saying: “Whether you want to build an aeroplane, construct a nuclear power station, animate a film or launch a yacht or satellite, businesses here in the South West know how to succeed.

“And it’s not just the diversity of South West firms – it’s also about sheer weight of their knowledge.

“The University of Bath’s £60m new centre of excellence in Advanced Propulsion Systems and the University of the West of England’s use of cutting-edge tech to make life easier for older people are just two shining examples.

“There’s so much to celebrate here.

“But as much as I’d like to make this speech a Shakespearean soliloquy about the South West I can’t ignore that, at a national level, things aren’t so rosy.”

 

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