Ahead of the referendum, our members – many of which are prolific exporters – were clear that they saw a stronger, brighter future if Britain remained in the EU. The country has collectively decided that it wants to leave the EU. It is not the result many businesses wanted, but it is the democratic will of our country and will quite rightly now be acted upon.
It is already clear that the decision has caused a shock – sterling has dropped and the markets are volatile. Against this backdrop it is vital that we regain stability and restore calm. David Cameron’s resignation speech today could have sparked more concerns, but his speech was pitched to strike the right note of reassurance (as was that of the Governor of the Bank of England), providing a timetable and showing the leadership style that will help to stabilise the economy, reassure the markets and shore-up business confidence.
The process of leaving the Union will take some time, plus of course there will now be a leadership contest to not only lead the Conservative party, but of course to also lead Government. Against this ongoing uncertainty, Ministers must continue to think carefully about our negotiating position and the new PM must set out a clear roadmap for establishing a new deal with the EU, which remains our biggest market and trading partner, as a priority.
The PM provided some reassurance that nothing is going to happen overnight. But it is a short-term relief and very soon we will be fully in uncharted waters where we will need a clear vision for a new relationship between the UK and the EU.
We must also avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. In the complex task of unpicking the UK from EU regulation and legislation, the Government must tread carefully, maintaining a trading relationship with the single market, and not becoming bogged down to the detriment of making long-awaited and much-needed decisions on projects vital to our future economic prosperity. We must also ensure that the skilled workers we need are still encouraged and enabled to live and work in the UK.
Business will play a critical role in Britain’s ongoing success. My sector – manufacturing – is naturally creative, versatile and determined. These are all qualities that will help us to adapt to this brave new world, and also qualities that will help make this step into the unknown a success.
But, for us to play our part, it is vital that the negotiations deliver the following key priorities:
- Maintain tariff free access to the EU market for goods and services,
- Ensure regulatory stability,
- Continue to address the UK skills gap,
- Give further focus to an integrated domestic policy to support investment, competitiveness and export performance.
With these areas secured we can continue to drive jobs, growth and prosperity.
For EEF’s full view on what manufacturers’ priorities are as we part ways with the EU, see our new report on Manufacturing our Future.