There is still an enormous amount to be done to determine what Brexit will look like for the country and the business community, and there is plenty of opportunity for unexpected twists and turns along the way. Despite progress being made in 2017 with us reaching a first-phase agreement, many of the fundamental questions that will ultimately need to be answered have simply been kicked down the road as talks move on to the matters of transition, and then trade.
The government is looking to secure a period of status-quo transition following March 2019 for at least a year up to a maximum of three years. During this time the intention is that businesses can continue to operate as if we are still full members of the European Union whilst the details of the future relationship continue to be ironed out. The direction of travel beyond this is only just beginning to be discussed seriously, and will inevitably be influenced by forces largely out of our control.
Two distinct paths have emerged: the first, where we continue to fully align ourselves with the rules and regulations of the single market similarly to countries like Norway; or the second, where we begin to diverge our rules and regulations from those of the single market through the framework of a Free Trade Agreement comparable to the CETA deal with Canada.
These two options do not exist on a spectrum. Each is configurable, offering a particular set of tools for us to use to forge the future direction of Britain’s trade policy, but each represents a separate path to that future, and neither is entirely compatible with both the objectives and red-lines set by our own government or with the desires of the British public. Which of these toolboxes we open is set to be the defining Brexit issue of 2018.
One other element though, looks destined to be the primary factor in steering Brexit policy; The Irish border presents a problem that the government has been reluctant to address with any seriousness. This problem cannot be kicked down the road forever and may prove to be the issue upon which the future direction ultimately hinges.
For businesses much of the politics will be a distraction, with the reality of Brexit impacts on the ground being the primary issue. With so little information to work with though, just working out what needs to be worked out is hard enough, let alone implementing actions to mitigate any potential problems in the future. Our job at the Chamber is to be ready to inform our members when any relevant information arises, to translate the developments into tangible effects, and to represent their views and concerns within the wider political and public Brexit conversation.
To keep members informed throughout this process, even as it grows more complex and the technical details become more important, giving businesses the key information they need to keep up with the debate and plan for the future.
To relay the voice of our members to the highest level possible, making sure that the business implications of the government’s handling of the process and the future direction of the country works for the business community.
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