- The week’s big headlines about the economic impact of Brexit pivoted on business leaders’ support (or lack thereof) for May’s withdrawal agreement. The government’s early hope was that big business would represent a partisan and pragmatic voice of common sense, and that this voice could be utilised to persuade the public and put pressure on MPs. On Monday, Theresa May had addressed the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) at their annual conference to ask them to support her withdrawal agreement. In her speech at the CBI, May focused largely on her post-Brexit immigration plans, stating that EU nationals would no longer be able to “jump the queue” ahead of skilled workers from elsewhere. The CBI backed the agreement, with chief executive Carolyn Fairbairn telling the conference that it “does not give certainty, but it is significantly better than stepping off that cliff next March”. Rather than fulfilling Downing Street’s wish for a uniform front in favour of May’s deal, however, big business leaders are now visibly split on whether the deal should be pursued. As we remarked earlier in the week, the anti-People’s Vote bias in the representation of business leaders at the CBI was always likely to be mirrored in the flurry of interviews that followed the conference. By the week’s dusk, anti-Leave sentiment in the corporate sector was getting much more column-space, and an IoD poll saw 46% favouring a second referendum (with 44% against and 11% unsure). Similarly, business groups such as the NFU, the FSB, and UK finance have all consistently aired their concerns.
- There was ongoing concern about whether the UK and EU would reach a Brexit deal on fishing, and Macron’s words on the matter certainly suggest that this will be a particularly tough area of negotiation over the coming years.
- Further to Sam Coates’ story on Tuesday, there were plenty of whispers continue that Theresa May will try for a second Commons vote if she doesn’t get her deal through first time. If this happens, market responses to increased uncertainty will be heavily weaponised by the Cabinet.
- There was talk of extending the transition period. On Monday, Michel Barnier proposed that the transition period be extended to 2022. Theresa May is open to the idea, but insisted that the transition must be over by the next general election (which is currently scheduled for 2022). She stated on Tuesday that, “there is unanimity among the EU 27, I believe, that should we need an extension of the Article 50 process, we will be granted it.” This has clear implications for anyone hoping for a People’s Vote; a second referendum is likely to take up to six months to organise, so an extension of the transition period would be required to get it off the ground.
- Gibraltar posed problems throughout the week. Following his Foreign Minister’s warning on Monday, the Spanish PM has threatened to reject the withdrawal agreement unless there is clarification of Gibraltar’s status. Expect this to be a huge topic of debate in the coming few years; there’s now discussion of joint sovereignty of Gibraltar with Spain.
- The Federation of Small Businesses emphasised the importance of an immigration system that works for small businesses, outlining some of the difficulties Brexit is imposing upon them
- As an aside, the previous week’s stories about food and drink seemed to gain increasing traction on social media, with the Mars Bar joining the curry house in the list of culinary icons that are endangered by Brexit. Wednesday and Thursdayhave both brought word of the wine trade’s concern about their post-Brexit business, with WSTA launching #NoToNoDeal campaign and Majestic stockpiling wine in case of Brexit blues
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