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Brexit: Firms call for action after May’s Florence speech

Theresa May answers questions after her speech in Florence, ItalyImage copyright
AFP

UK business groups have called for progress in the Brexit talks after Prime Minister Theresa May made offers on EU funding and citizens rights.

Mrs May also suggested a transition period of about two years during which trade should continue on current terms.

The CBI and other business bodies said negotiators now needed to quickly move on to talks about trade and transition.

But several Leave campaigners were disappointed about further delays, calling such a transition “stalling”.

The prime minister hopes her offers, made in a speech in Florence, will unblock Brexit talks.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, said: “The prime minister’s speech has set a positive tone and we now need leadership from both sides to turn the proposals and principles into decisions and action.”

She said “tangible progress must be made next week” when the two sides continue talks.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

A pro-EU campaigner protests in Florence ahead of Theresa May’s speech

The CBI, along with trade bodies for aerospace and financial services, welcomed Mrs May’s aim of retaining trade terms until 2021.

But the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said many businesses wanted a longer transition of at least three years.

The priorities for businesses are to “get trade talks moving”, said Adam Marshall, the head of the BCC.

“In the world of business, the PM’s Florence speech will be judged not on its rhetoric or delivery, but on whether it begins to break the stalemate that has left companies across the UK, Europe and around the world counting the cost of uncertainty,” he said.

‘Thin on detail’

But Brexit-backing businessmen and economists said the UK should be prepared to leave the EU without interim arrangements, known as a “no deal” scenario.

Professor Patrick Minford, chairman of Economists for Free Trade, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Prime Minister seems to have committed to a vague transitional period of ‘around two years’ at this early stage in the negotiations.”

The UK economy could benefit from global free trade and full competition after Brexit, he said.

Media captionTheresa May says an “implementation period” of two years “will create valuable certainty” for the UK and EU

Leave campaigner and businessman Christopher Nieper said Theresa May’s Brexit speech was “thin on detail”.

The managing director of womenswear manufacturer David Nieper, said: “What we are all waiting for is her vision for a trade deal. We didn’t see anything on that, and I was a little disappointed.”

He told the BBC that further delay in agreeing a deal was just “stalling”, adding: “In reality it’s more uncertainty.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier described Mrs May’s speech as “constructive” and said the prime minister had shown “a willingness to move forward”.

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