Business is too important not to be a loud voice in the Brexit debate

  • Brexit is proving to be the most important, and most complicated, issue for Britain in a generation.

  • Chuka Umunna MP

Brexit is proving to be the most important, and most complicated, issue for Britain in a generation. I have no problem with the Government being ambitious and wanting to get the best deal for Britain – we all share that goal. However, I do take issue with ministers deliberately deceiving people when, as the reality of Brexit becomes clear, it is open to the people to take a different view on whether to press on with Brexit.

Government ministers portray Brexit as a single linear road with one destination where we cannot slow down, stop or turn off. That is simply not true. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and President Macron of France have repeatedly made clear that the British people are in charge of this process. There is no political or legal obstacle to Britons choosing to stay in the European Union if they don’t like the Brexit deal we end up with.

During the EU referendum campaign there were a lot of hypothetical predictions for what would happen if we voted to Leave or Remain. But now with the negotiations under way, we are getting more and more new facts. It is only right that these new facts are examined, and that the public, business, and politicians all contribute to shape the UK’s stance on this issue. Government cannot be left to dictate the UK’s position alone.

The unsustainable negotiating red lines set out by the Prime Minister are severely restricting the ability of Britain to get a decent deal from this process. Our EU counterparts have put a number of options on the table. Theresa May is the one ruling them out.

The Single Market provides tariff-free trade between countries and a common framework of rules including employment rights, competition policy, consumer and environment protections. EU countries come together through the Customs Union and apply the same tariffs to goods from outside the union. Non-EU countries can participate in both bodies and doing so is the best way of retaining the benefits of EU membership, while being outside the EU.

These are still options, it was Theresa May who took these options off of the negotiating table. Anything else, according to the Government’s own analysis, would severely damage our economy and lead to costly new barriers for British business in day to day operations with EU countries.

The Government also claims we can have the “exact same economic benefits” that we currently have if outside of the EU and its economic structures. But EU officials and politicians have said since the beginning that we will not be able to enjoy the economic benefits that we currently enjoy if we are outside of the Single Market and the Customs Union.

I understand that business can be nervous about getting involved in political debates but the political is commercial in this case – it is unavoidable. So be confident. Speak up for your industries. Speak up for your sectors, your employees and your clients. Spell out to government, and Parliament what you need us to do in order to achieve growth whatever happens. British business is too important not to be a loud voice in this debate.