Theresa May has finally delivered her plans for Brexit in a speech that has already been hailed the most important of her premiership to date. The announcement is the first time we are hearing of the planned approach to leaving the EU, billed as a ‘hard’ or ‘clean’ Brexit. May confirmed that the UK will leave the European Union and subsequently the single market. In the speech she outlined twelve key objectives that the UK government intends to follow as negotiations get underway.
Since becoming Prime Minister last July, May has faced repeated calls to provide more detail on her Brexit strategy, but has refused to offer a “running commentary”, saying it would weaken the UK’s negotiating hand. I still believe she should have been upfront with her plans earlier in the process, instead of creating the sense of uncertainty we have witnessed over the past six months.
The ‘hard’ Brexit strategy outlined yesterday has been widely welcomed by businesses who have been seeking specifics on the long-term plans since the referendum in June 2016. By promising to provide certainty “as much as possible” as she works to build a “great and global Britain”, May has somewhat shown her commitment to UK business leaders and offered some degree of clarity on what we should expect.
Despite this, one area that does concern me is May’s unwavering commitment to leaving the single market. As I said before the referendum, I firmly believe that we are facing a fundamental employment issue long-term. We need skilled workers from across Europe to fill employment opportunities in many sectors, including the NHS and property and construction. Leaving the single market will inevitably cause gaps and it will be absolutely crucial to invest in training and development initiatives here in the UK to ensure we have enough ‘home-grown’ talent to cope with employment demands across the country.
That being said, the UK economy relies heavily on workers from across the EU to take on roles often perceived as unattractive by UK nationals. UK businesses that rely on this flow of staff from the EU may find it hard to fill the gap. On the other hand, new immigration policies could help us maximise opportunities to recruit global talent. By not favouring applicants from our EU neighbours we could benefit from a much wider global talent pool.
If we are to use Brexit to deliver a truly global Britain as the Prime Minister wishes, then British businesses must be able to continue to attract and access global talent with as little barriers as possible. I urge the government to consult with organisations, making sure their views and needs are reflected in any deal that the Prime Minister seeks to put to the House of Commons.
Appealing to campaigners on both sides, May also called for a stop to the bitter feud that has plagued the referendum debate, asking everyone to unite and help her build a better Britain, regardless of whether they voted remain or leave back in June. She discussed a “united Britain” that is “open for business and ready to trade with EU and the world”, but stressed the importance of UK citizens and businesses from both camps joining together. Only time will tell if this vision will come to fruition, but I worry that her announcement to let Parliament vote on any deal reached could leave us with a bigger issue in the long-term. Commenting on the negotiations, May stated that that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” which suggests that she would be willing to leave the EU with no trade deal in place if MPs fail to reach an agreement in Parliament, a move I feel would be disastrous for the UK economy.
We can only hope that the two year timetable set out by May and her government to agree a suitable Brexit deal will be enough, and that we can forge positive new relationships within the EU that will allow businesses and the UK economy to flourish outside of the European Union.
Jo Sellick, Managing Director, Sellick Partnership