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Government urged to pay more than lip service to businesses’ Brexit concerns

Government urged to pay more than lip service to businesses’ Brexit concerns

By Elizabeth Arnold, Press Association Political Staff

Theresa May’s Government must start “paying more than lip service” to the concerns of business as it negotiates Brexit, Labour has warned.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey accused the Government of “caving in to the hard no deal Brexiteers” through accepting amendments that she said Tory remain supporters felt “fundamentally undermine the Chequers proposal and wrecked it”.

Business Secretary Greg Clark maintained business had “given a warm welcome” to the Government’s Brexit white paper as he urged Labour to “recognise the national interest in having a good deal”.

Mr Clark defended the Chequers proposals which have come under fire from Eurosceptics within the Tory party, adding that “rather than edging for difference and trying to make political points, she (Ms Long-Bailey) should get behind what is an excellent suggestion for the country”.

Speaking during Commons Business questions, Ms Long-Bailey said: “The CBI and the Chamber of Commerce have both said that they are no clearer on the Government’s negotiating position in a number of key areas and last night business leaders are reported to have warned the Prime Minister her customs legislation was not fit for purpose, but the Government pressed ahead, even accepting amendments that their own colleagues (say) fundamentally undermine the Chequers proposal and wrecked it, caving in to the hard no deal Brexiteers.

“So I ask the Secretary of State: when exactly will his Government start paying more than lip service to the concerns of business?”

Mr Clark replied: “All of the organisations that she mentioned have given a warm welcome to the white paper and to the Chequers proposals because not only in the Mansion House speech the Prime Minister gave, we committed to minimising frictions at the border.

“What is proposed now is to have zero friction at the border, that is something that is strongly in the interests of business. It allows our successful supply chains to continue to prosper.

“What we need from the Opposition is for them to recognise the national interest in having a good deal, almost everyone in this country wants to see a good deal negotiated between Britain and the EU, rather than edging for difference and trying to make political points, she should get behind what is an excellent suggestion for the country.”

Ms Long-Bailey argued the Government’s Brexit “chaos” was putting inward investment and jobs at risk, as she called on Mr Clark to listen to the concerns of business with respect.

She said: “Airbus, Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Siemens – these were just a few of the businesses that have recently spoken out about the Government’s handling of Brexit, they alone provide thousands of jobs and significant investment into the UK, but the Government’s chaos is putting this in jeopardy.

“Even the Secretary of State himself was forced to rebuke the flagrant dismissal of his own frontbench colleagues stating that big employers were entitled to be listened to with respect.

“So would the Secretary of State say that he has now listened to the concerns of business with respect?”

Mr Clark replied: “What I would say to her is that she’s absolutely right – those businesses did speak and out and what they have also done since the publication of the white paper is recognise that the zero friction proposal that is made, there is one that merits support, and they have committed to advocate it across the rest of the European Union as I hope that she will.”

Pic by Yui Mok/PA Wire

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