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EU business leaders press Theresa May for Brexit deal

Media captionThe CBI chief says business wants the UK and Europe to speed up Brexit negotiations

European and UK business leaders have told Prime Minister Theresa May of their Brexit concerns.

At a meeting in Downing Street on Monday, representatives from groups including the CBI and BusinessEurope pressed for a transitional deal that preserves the status quo after Brexit.

The CBI chief, Carolyn Fairbairn, said all those at the meeting reiterated the damage “no deal” would do to trade.

A German lobby group also warned that no deal would cost their economy dear.

The head of the German chambers of commerce, Martin Wansleben, told a newspaper the car industry alone would face annual tariffs of more than €2bn if trade between the UK and the EU falls under World Trade Organisation rules.

Emma Marcegaglia, president of BusinessEurope, said: “Business is extremely concerned with the slow pace of negotiations and the lack of progress only one month before the decisive December European Council.

“Business aims to avoid a cliff edge and therefore asks for a ‘status quo-like’ transitional arrangement with the UK staying in the customs union and the single market, as this will best provide citizens and businesses with greater certainty.”

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The business groups met Mrs May at No 10, as well as Business Secretary Greg Clark, Brexit Secretary David Davis and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Barclay.

The CBI and the Institute of Directors were represented, along with business organisations from France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic and Belgium.

There are concerns that future trade talks could collapse ahead of December’s EU summit.

EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned that the talks will only go ahead if the UK first clarifies its financial obligations to the EU.

Mr Davis has said the UK was “ready and willing” to engage with Brussels “as often and as quickly as needed”.

Growing urgency

Earlier, Ms Fairbairn, CBI director-general, told the BBC a CBI survey found that 10% of companies had already activated their contingency plans.

The pace of planning by firms was picking up, she added, with about 60% of companies saying they would implement contingency plans by the end of next March.

Bernard Spitz, a director of Medef, France’s biggest business lobby group, said agreement on a transition deal was important for both UK companies as well as those “across the European Union”.

“We know that for us, especially for the French, the relationship with the UK is absolutely key, but if business continuity is important, what is even more important is the integrity of the European market,” he said.

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Image caption

Michel Barnier has warned of the possible collapse of Brexit talks

Property developer Richard Tice, co-founder of Leave Means Leave, said if a trade deal appeared unlikely, “then actually we would be better to give certainty to everybody that actually we’re going to do a different type of deal which is to go to WTO [World Trade Organization rules]”.

BBC business editor Simon Jack says some UK business leaders in favour of Brexit are concerned that a transition period maintaining the current arrangements will delay and frustrate Britain’s attempts to strike new independent deals.

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