The industry has reacted as the Brexit negotiations begin today (19 June), with the UK’s Brexit secretary David Davis heading to Brussels amid uncertainty over the solidity of the Conservatives’ minority government.
If the election had gone as expected, Davis would have been armed with a stronger mandate and negotiating hand than when Theresa May first became Prime Minister in July 2016. As it happened, May lost her majority, is in the process of forming a shaky “confidence and supply” arrangement with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and the Queen’s Speech is yet to go ahead.
Davis, however, told the press he was entering the negotiations with a “positive and constructive” frame of mind, and he will present a joint press conference this evening from Brussels with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier. The UK is set to leave the EU by the end of March 2019.
But reaction from the industry has been more cautious.
Linney Group chief executive Miles Linney said the main effect on his business would be from the “point of view of the supply chain” and that he fears for the effects of the election result on the negotiations.
“I personally think it’s going to be a very tough negotiation and it’s going to take a long long time. I think on balance it has weakened our hand as a country having such a close election," he said.
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “It’s absolutely clear that the EU team, Jean-Claude Juncker [president of the European Commission] and Barnier, have their ducks in a row, and it looks from our point of view that we in the UK are going to be incredibly weak because of the weakness of government."
“We hope that the government will listen to the voices of the manufacturing industry, the employers and the unions in regards to what needs to be done on membership of the single market and customs unions as without both we anticipate a negative impact.”
Pinstripe Print Group managing director Nigel Lyon said there had been a huge amount of rhetoric since last year’s Brexit vote but felt both sides will ultimately arrive at a fair deal.
He said: “The reality is we need to let the negotiators get on with it and at the end of the day let’s see what will roll out. My personal view is we will see a result that will be fair ultimately for both sides because it’s not within either sides' interest for it not to be fair.”
Patrick Headley, chief executive of direct marketing specialist GI Solutions Group, shunned the possibility of a soft or hard Brexit and called for a “careful Brexit” instead.
“Anything about industry, it’s about consumer confidence and if we have strong consumer confidence in the UK we tend to grow as a country and that is going to be the absolute key,” he added.
Grafenia chief executive Peter Gunning is fearful for the implications on free movement as he prepares to expand his Nettl offering into Europe.
“It’s common for us to relocate people between countries, so that they can learn, develop and return. It’s important for businesses to continue to have that flexibility without having to apply for permits or be restricted by quotas,” he said.
“The result of the election seems to be a vote against ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ and against a hard Brexit.”