Eight industry experts have their say on Brexit deal
Sector leaders have their say on Theresa May's Brexit deal
The long-awaited withdrawal agreement for the UK’s departure from the European Union was never likely to please all sides.
But does the proposal presented by Theresa May offer any reassurance to business on what the future might hold – and how would it compare to the UK leaving the EU without a deal?
Our business reporters asked industry leaders for their views.
Richard Bridgman, the founder and owner of Warren Services, a component manufacturer based in Thetford:
“I think we should stay with Theresa May. It’s taken this long to get to where we are and have some decisions made. I trust that she’s got the best deal possible for us – I believe that the European community have played hard ball with us and what we have at the moment is the best compromise for both.
“I do have concerns about free flow of staff. We’re in a really busy time and we have a skills shortage which won’t be filled with the likes of robots yet. If we have skilled, or even partially skilled staff coming into the UK it would help.”
“I am also concerned about the free flow of goods. We get a lot of our materials from Europe and as long as we can get them in on time, for the right price, then we can deal with the rest.
“I think the deal we’ve got on the table is the best we’re going to get, and we should just get on with it.”
Simon Gray, chief executive of the East of England Energy Group:
“We can’t quite believe we are in this situation, with such a lack of real clarity. In the short-term, the vast majority of businesses don’t know what the impact will be on them. The overriding feeling is that industry will make it work - we already deal globally with Russia, Iran, Africa - so we will find a way.
“A number of businesses are trying to keep large amounts of stock – parts, spares, chemicals – because they need that security of supply.
“From an oil and gas point of view, the Scots are pushing back against the Northern Ireland backstop, so that may bring a second independence vote closer. That brings further uncertainty.
“EEEGR recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Team Humber and two Dutch ports. British and Dutch ports surrounding the Southern North Sea are trying to work together to make sure those links stay open after Brexit.”
Rachel Carrington, regional director for the National Farmers’ Union:
“A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for farm businesses across East Anglia.
“It is likely we would see supply chain disruption, with delays at the border as checks are made on goods moving between the UK and EU. There would also be a temporary ban on exports of meat, dairy eggs and other animal products to the EU, until the UK was listed as an approved third country.
“A no deal scenario could lead to labour shortages, and the UK could also be opened up to food imports produced to lower standards and with lower costs, against which our farmers would struggle to compete.”
Dr Karl Heeks, board adviser for tech company Metrarc, which has recently moved to Suffolk’s Adastral Park, and chief executive of the tech company ROADMap Systems, gave evidence to the House of Lords subcommittee on Brexit as an expert in the tech sector.
“I am involved in companies that develop high technology and these have been in sectors such as telecom, datacom and semiconductors. The European market is of some importance to us, but actually the wider international market is possibly more important.
“For high tech companies, in areas such as telecom, data com and semiconductors, particularly ones that are looking to be acquired, the reality is that a lot of the big companies with the largest appetites may be based in the US or Asia... So Brexit is not so much of an issue.
“From an operational perspective, we have not been hampered by Brexit issues and the one area that we might have anticipated a problem, recruiting high calibre engineering staff, has not for us materialised. Indeed, where we do have more of an issue is recruiting such staff from outside the EU - from places like China and Taiwan, where we are encumbered by the rigmarole of accessing visas.”
Martin Dupee, operations director at Banham Zoo and Africa Alive!, and chair of the Norfolk and Suffolk Tourist Attractions Association:
“Norfolk and Suffolk relies more on domestic tourism than it does from international visitors like the London or Cambridge. From our perspective, when there is any political or trade uncertainty this is generally positive for the domestic market.
“Having said that, in the event of a no deal I can’t imagine that planes will suddenly stop taking off from Stansted and that our borders would close. People will get up and get on with business and trade with the EU will continue. Taking the worst case scenario, trade will be under WTO legislation and we’d deal with that.
“What could be of concern to us is any potential changed to transport of animals as part of the European Breeding Programme and how this is managed through any potential borders.”
Professor Joshua Bamfield, the director of the Centre for Retail Research, which is based in Norwich:
“We feel that the proposed agreement covers most of the issues that concern retailing. Retail operates on a ‘just in time’ principle and delays at ports on incoming goods will soon produce shortages in the shops. For example grocery shops in Norwich typically carry only one to two days of stock, so delays in say fruit and vegetables and other grocery items would soon mean empty shelves in stores.
“The agreement prevents this (or seems to), allowing normal restocking to occur.
“In other manufactured or processed products, whether electronic durables or cheese, port delays would have ultimately led to shortages at the processing stage and made it difficult to renew goods that had been sold.”
Ian White, of Beckett Investment Management Group:
“Uncertainty hinders investment so Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement may be more acceptable because the majority of business leaders are fearful of a ‘no deal’.
However, we have to bear in mind that this is just the initial ‘divorce’ deal and there are no details yet on the transition - so we’ll be talking about the potential impact for years to come and may have to live with volatility in investment markets.
The outlook for a ‘no deal’ scenario might be pretty grim because we would expect a tougher economic backdrop in the short-term. Leaving the EU with no deal would probably have a negative impact on sterling but, as a lot of UK listed companies have global revenues, this could actually boost some stocks - as we saw following the referendum result in 2016.”
Suffolk logistics boss, Stephen Britt, of Anchor Storage:
“Even World Trade Organisation rules are too cumbersome, and should be dropped in favour of a unilateral free trade option, with goods coming in subject to our rules on standards. Duty and VAT should be scrapped.
“It’s only complicated because we are talking about halfway houses - if we just go the whole hog it’s simple.”
“If I had a free choice I really, really would vote for ‘no deal’. I don’t want this deal honestly.”
But the prime minister’s deal will not change anything, he believes. “What’s the point of going into this if we are no better off?”